Charges for federal crimes are extremely serious, and the criminal justice process for these cases is significantly different from those on the local or state level. When the government accuses you of a federal offense, a national law enforcement agency like the FBI or DEA will investigate whether you have broken federal law. If you go to trial, it will be in a federal court.
Each case is different, and the proceedings can change depending on the circumstances. Matthew Bangerter, a skilled federal crimes lawyer, will explain the characteristics and processes of federal crimes in this article.
Types of Federal Criminal Charges
A crime is considered a federal offense only if it involves a national entity. For example, if someone commits robbery, it’s not a federal crime unless the victim is a federal bank or another organization connected to the U.S. federal government.
Federal crimes generally apply in the following situations:
Crimes That Cross State Lines
If you commit a crime that crosses state borders, you may get a federal charge even if the law you broke isn’t a national law. This circumstance applies whether you physically crossed state boundaries while committing a crime or committed the crime against people in other states without leaving yours.
Examples of federal crimes that cross borders:
- Kidnapping someone and taking them to another state
- Trafficking drugs from one state to another
- Using the internet to commit fraud when your victims live in other states
White Collar Crimes
White-collar crime is the term for offenses that break federal securities laws. These crimes become federal offenses when they involve national organizations.
Examples of white-collar federal crimes:
- Tax fraud
- Counterfeit money
- Forgery of federal documents
- Bribery involving a national organization
- Fraud of government agency (i.e., Social Security, Medicare)
Violent crimes will not result in a federal conviction unless it violates national law. Examples of violent crimes that result in federal charges:
- Murder of a federal officer
- Distributing child pornography on the internet
- Sex crimes
Federal Criminal Investigation
Before someone can be arrested and charged with a federal crime, a government law enforcement agency must investigate whether or not they violated federal law. If they find that the accusation is valid, they will make the arrest and begin pre-trial proceedings.
For the case to proceed, the prosecutor will present the case to a grand jury (impartial citizens selected for the case) or the judge, who will determine if there is evidence that they broke federal law. This first step must happen within the first 72 hours following the suspect’s arrest. The defendant does not have the right to appear at this step.
The next step is an arraignment, where the defendant receives their charges and may enter a plea, such as not guilty or guilty. The defendant and their criminal defense attorney can negotiate a plea bargain with federal prosecutors at this stage.
After the arraignment, both parties begin the discovery portion of the pre-trial proceedings. During this time, the defendant and the prosecutors can file motions to request actions from the court regarding evidence. The defense may ask to dismiss evidence or produce a specific piece of evidence for the trial. The prosecutor may seek information from the defendant, such as an alibi.
What is Plea Bargaining?
A plea bargain may result in skipping the trial entirely. The defendant can enter a guilty plea as a term of the plea bargain in exchange for something from the prosecutor. Examples of plea bargain concessions:
- Dismissal of separate charges
- Recommendation for a lesser sentence
- Agreement to not oppose the defendant’s plea for a specific sentence
The court may reject the plea bargain or discuss alternatives to the terms or concessions. If the plea bargain fails, the defendant can withdraw their guilty plea and proceed with the trial.
During the trial, the defendant and their criminal defense attorney will have the chance to present their evidence and fight the charges. Since the government has the burden of proof, the prosecutor will always go first and last when giving their statements and presenting evidence. At each stage, the defendant has the opportunity to present their case.
After the closing arguments, the jury will leave to decide the case, or if there is no jury, the judge will determine the verdict.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
If the court finds the defendant guilty of their charges, they will determine a sentence. Before deciding on the punishment in federal criminal cases, the court will receive information about the defendant’s circumstances and personal record, including previous crimes, finances, social life, and physical and mental health. They will also consider the impact on the victim or victims of the crime.
Hire a Skilled Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
Serious federal criminal charges require a skilled criminal defense lawyer. At Bangerter Law Office, our federal crimes lawyer, Matthew Bangerter, has experience on both sides of the court. He is a former prosecutor who knows their strategies and has extensive knowledge of forensic evidence due to his scientific background.
If you need a federal crimes lawyer in northeast Ohio, call Bangerter Law Office in Willoughby, OH, at (440) 409-7898 or fill out our online form to schedule your consultation.
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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.