Steps in the Federal Criminal Process
Federal court differs greatly from the process of being charged with a crime in State court. The biggest difference is if you plead guilty or are found guilty, you will not know what your sentence will be for several months. I will discuss this below.
The first thing that happens after you are arrested is the Detention Hearing. You will be brought before a Federal Magistrate Judge for the District you were arrested in. If the Government has formally charged you by an Indictment returned by the Grand Jury, you will not have the opportunity to contest the probable cause for your arrest. The only thing that the court will consider is your release status (the Detention Hearing). For most non-violent crimes your Federal criminal lawyer will usually be able to successfully argue for your release on conditions, perhaps without having to pay any money or post property to insure your appearance at future hearings. If you are charged with a violent crime or serious drug crime, the Government may seek to keep you in jail until your case is over. In that case, you will need an experienced Federal Criminal Lawyer to argue for your release sometimes with you or a family member posting real estate that will be forfeited to the Government, if you don’t show up for court.
If you were only arrested on a Complaint filed by law-enforcement, your attorney will have an opportunity to contest the probable cause for your arrest at a Preliminary Hearing where a Government witness or case agent must testify. This is an excellent opportunity for your Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer to learn more about the case against you and maybe even get you released.
Once the case has been pending for a month or two, your attorney will discuss your options with you to include going to trial and fighting the case, pleading guilty with a written plea agreement offered to you by the Government, or an open guilty plea with no plea agreement.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty after trial, you will not be sentenced right there on the spot. Your sentencing hearing will be scheduled 3 months out. These are crucial months and why it’s important to have an experienced Federal Criminal Lawyer. A lengthy Pre-Sentence Report will be prepared by a specialist with the United States Probation Office and the report will contain a recommended sentence pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Your attorney must also be very familiar with the Sentencing guidelines so that objections can be made if your recommended sentence has been calculated wrong. There are many factors that may enhance or decrease your recommended sentence. Even if you are found guilty, an experienced criminal defense attorney can have a lengthy prison sentence reduced by several years with successful arguments about how the guidelines apply to your case. Your Federal Criminal Lawyer may argue for a sentence below the guidelines (known as a “variance” from the guidelines) in certain cases where the Court feels the guidelines do not adequately reflect the facts and circumstances of your criminal conduct.