The number of federal crimes covered by the United States Code is too numerous to count. These statutes are often confusing and can have unexpected consequences upon a conviction. The following frequently asked questions cover a variety of common queries related to potential federal charges.
I think I am under federal investigation. What should I do?
There is no requirement that you wait until you have been arrested to discuss your options with a defense attorney. In some cases, federal authorities will make it clear that they are investigating you for a crime and that your arrest could be imminent. In that situation, there is no value in delaying your selection of a defense attorney. In fact, an attorney could assist you with pushing back against federal prosecutors before charges are ever filed.
An attorney could potentially obtain information about the investigation into you that you might not be able to get on your own. This can be valuable in crafting a winning defense.
How do state and federal crimes differ?
The major difference between state and federal offenses involves the entity prosecuting you. If you are facing federal charges, your case is overseen by a United States Attorney. For state charges, a county prosecutor will typically be responsible for your case.
Federal cases involve federal law, and a conviction could result in time in federal prison. The opposite is true for state cases where a conviction can lead to incarceration at a county jail or state prison.
The entities that investigate state and federal crimes are also different. Federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms handle federal cases. For state offenses, much of the investigation is done by local, county, or state police.
Do I have rights in federal court?
Just like with any criminal prosecution, you are protected by your constitutional rights in federal court. These rights are broad and provide you with many important benefits.
You have the right to an attorney. This is important, given that the weight of the federal government is stacked against you. The right attorney could make the difference in beating your charge or facing a conviction.
You have the right to remain silent. You are not required to testify at your trial or answer investigators' questions. The government may not force you to testify against yourself.
On the other hand, you have the right to testify. This decision is yours to make, and federal prosecutors cannot prevent you from testify just like they cannot force you to do so. The decision to testify at trial should always be made in conjunction with your attorney.
You have the right to seek your release while awaiting trial. If federal prosecutors intend to keep you behind bars while they build a case against you, you have the right to seek your release until your trial date arrives.
Should I accept the first plea bargain offered to me?
You should never accept a plea bargain without first consulting a lawyer. In many cases, initial plea offers are worse than what you could expect to receive at trial. Plus, many cases are winnable in a jury trial, which could make a plea bargain a bad idea. An attorney could advise you of the strength of the federal government's case as well as whether or not the suggested sentence is fair.
Is it possible to win a federal case?
Like with any criminal charge, you are entitled to a vigorous defense. While federal prosecutors have significant resources behind them, it is possible to prevail at trial in a federal criminal case. Doing so without legal counsel could be unlikely. With the help of a skilled federal defense lawyer, you could obtain a favorable outcome in your case.
Often, pleading guilty is not in your best interest. A guilty plea waives your right to a trial, the latter of which could have been your best option to beat the charges against you. Every case is different, however, making it imperative that you discuss your options carefully with legal counsel.
How long will my case take to resolve?
In state court, criminal cases can often languish for months or even years. This is especially true for serious crimes like murder. In general, federal crimes are more likely to move through the system quickly.
The federal government must indict someone they arrest within 30 days. Additionally, federal law requires that a trial occur within 70 days of the arrest or indictment, whichever is later. There are important exceptions to this rule. This 70-day period can be paused for complex cases or in situations where pretrial motions are necessary.
Should a lawyer accompany me to a meeting with my probation officer before my sentencing hearing?
Federal probation officers typically prepare a pre-sentencing report that they will present to the court at your hearing. This report is important and will consider potential penalties, mitigating factors, and/or aggravating factors. Like with every phase of the trial, you are entitled to legal representation during this meeting. It is important that your attorney appear to ensure you are treated fairly and do no say anything that could come back to haunt you during sentencing.
If I face a lengthy sentence will I have to serve all of it?
Unlike with state court, there is no federal parole system. That does not mean you will serve every day of a lengthy sentence. You have the potential to earn credits for good behavior for any sentence longer than a year. In total, you could shave roughly 15 percent off of your sentence in some cases.
No guarantee of a sentence reduction exists, however. Your legal counsel could assist with steps that might improve your chances of seeing your time reduced.
Let a Houston Federal Defense Lawyer Answer Your Questions
Some questions are too complex to find an accurate answer online. To ensure you get the best advice in your case, consider a free consultation with federal defense attorney Doug Murphy. Doug Murphy has extensive experience fighting for his clients in federal court and could address any questions you have about your situation. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to learn more.