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Federal Crimes: Overview of the Federal Criminal Process


There a several stages to any federal court criminal prosecution. The defense attorneys at Donet, McMillan & Trontz, P.A. fully understand the federal criminal justice process and can effectively guide anyone charged in the federal system though the different stages of the process. Step #1: Pre-Trial Stage The first phase of any federal prosecution is the pre-trial stage. The first phase includes the criminal investigation, the grand jury process and the arrest. Once federal authorities are made aware that a crime has been committed, a federal agency will be assigned to investigate the case to determine if an offense has been committed and who committed it. Step #2: Criminal Investigation Investigations in the federal system are extensive and very detailed. Some investigations take months and sometimes years to complete. The nature of the offense will determine which federal law enforcement agency will conduct the investigation. For example, the Secret Service handles all counterfeiting cases, while the FBI handles cases from terrorism to Medicare fraud. If the agency concludes that a crime has been committed and identifies a subject, an arrest can be made. Qualified counsel can sometimes intercede and prevent an arrest depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Arrests can be effectuated with or without a warrant. Warrants are usually implemented when a subject cannot be immediately located. As part of the investigation, search warrants and subpoenas will be executed to obtain evidence against a subject. Step #3: Grand Jury A grand jury is a panel of citizens from the community that ultimately decide whether an indictment should be issued against an individual. The grand jury has the power to issues subpoenas to compel the testimony of witnesses, as well as other evidence, such as corporate documents and other physical evidence. Once the grand jury has reviewed all of the evidence provided, they will decide whether probable cause exist to enter an indictment against an individual or group of individuals. Step #4: Indictment, Arrest & Initial Court Appearance Once an indictment is handed down by the grand jury and an arrest has been made, the subject of the indictment will make his initial appearance before a federal court magistrate. The initial appearance usually occurs within 24 hours of the arrest, but can take up to 72 hours. At the initial appearance, the magistrate will informally notify the defendant of the charges and a bond amount will usually be set. However, a prosecutor from the United States Attorney's Office can seek pre-trial detention or in other words object to a bond being set. A magistrate will consider the arguments of both parties in determining whether a defendant is a danger to the community or a flight risk. If the magistrate finds either situation exists, he or she will order pre-trial detention. Step #5: Federal Arraignments The next stage in the federal criminal justice process is the arraignment. At the arraignment, the defendant is formally apprised of the charges. The defendant will either be represented by privately retained attorney or by a court appointed lawyer. Counsel representing the defendant will enter a plea of not guilty and request a trial by jury. A request will also be made that a discovery order be signed, thereby compelling the government to disclose all of the relevant materials to be used at trial to the defense. The defense is also obligated to provide to the government any evidence they intend to introduce at trial. Step #6: Discovery Once the discovery order has been signed, the government prosecutors are obligated to provide all evidence to be used at trial. For example, all wiretaps, surveillance videos, forensic evidence, and witness statements must be turned over to the defense. Once the defense team has received the discovery and reviewed the investigative reports, any motions to dismiss and motions to suppress must be timely filed. If a judge hears the evidence and grants either type of motion, the case will most likely be dismissed and the defendant discharged. Step #7: Trial or Plea Bargain If the motions are denied by the judge, the defense must decide whether to go to trial or engage in plea bargaining. The decision will largely be based on the strength of the government's case. The ultimate decision will be up to the client after receiving advice from legal counsel. When it comes to plea bargaining, a lawyer with significant experience in the federal system can often receive better results than lawyers with less experience. When plea bargaining, the defense must receive concessions from the government prosecutor. Charge reductions and dismissals can result in lesser sentences. Effective plea agreements will include sentence limitations and recommendations of a particular sentence. Judges strongly consider recommendations made by the prosecutor. Effective federal criminal defense lawyers have an intimate knowledge of the federal sentencing guidelines which come into play when a plea is to be entered by the defendant.


If a satisfactory plea agreement cannot be reached or the government lacks evidence to prove the case, a trial may be the best way to proceed with the case. Ultimately, the decision to enter a plea or go to trial is up to the client. The federal defense lawyers at DMT will go over every aspect of the case with the client before that decision is made. It is imperative to hire a lawyer with years of trial experience as a conviction could result in years of incarceration. The attorneys at Donet, McMillan & Trontz, P.A. have tried hundreds of cases and have the experience to secure an acquittal by a jury.