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How Federal Crimes are Processed

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

How Federal Crimes are Processed

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The federal government has its own set of powers that allow it to investigate and prosecute crimes. Crimes that qualify for prosecution at the federal level tend to be more serious than those committed at the state level. They also may result in more significant damages to victims.

Even so, people who are targeted by federal investigations need to understand the seriousness and possible consequences involved with the crimes of which they are accused. When you find yourself the subject of a federal investigation, consider hiring a defense attorney who is experienced in litigating federal crimes to represent you.

What Is a Federal Crime?

The federal government typically investigates and prosecutes crimes that result in a more significant amount of personal, punitive or financial damages for victims. They also take the lead in criminal investigations that involve offenses that take place across state lines throughout the U.S.

Some of the most common examples of crimes that the federal government will investigate and pursue include:

  • White collar crimes, like fraud and conspiracy
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Immigration offenses, like lying on visa applications or marrying to get a green card
  • Money laundering
  • Interstate drug possession
  • Drug trafficking or manufacturing
  • Drug conspiracy
  • Internet crimes
  • Federal weapons violations
  • Mail fraud

Federal crimes typically carry with them longer and harsher sentences. Sentences for federal crime convictions can include years, possibly even life, in prison, as well as monetary fines that cost in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Who Investigates Federal Crimes?

The federal government utilizes a number of individual agencies to investigate crimes committed at this level. These agencies include the:

  • FBI
  • Criminal Division of the IRS (CID)
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF)
  • United States Postal Service Postal Inspector
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • United States Marshals Service
  • United States Secret Service
  • Office of the Inspector General

In theory, these agencies have jurisdiction and the right to take the lead on investigation of federal crimes committed in any U.S. city, county or state. However, it is more common for officers from these agencies to work in conjunction with local and state law enforcement. They are more likely to form joint tasks forces to investigate federal crimes and bring accused individuals to justice.

What is a Grand Jury?

One of the resources that federal prosecutors have at their disposal to bring accused people to justice is the grand jury. In fact, they will take a case before a grand jury before they take any further action on it, including formally charging a person or working out a plea deal with him or her.

A grand jury consists of no fewer than 16 and no more than 23 people. The members of the grand jury are convened to determine if the federal government has enough evidence with which to charge someone with a crime.

Grand juries are private, and sessions involving their appearance in court are not open to the public. In fact, defense attorneys only have limited roles when cases go before grand juries.

However, accused individuals do have the right to appear and testify before a grand jury that is convened for their cases. It is not always advisable for people accused of federal crimes to do so, simply because anything they say to a grand jury can be used against them in a trial later. People are reminded to only testify and appear before a grand jury on the advice of their experienced defense counsel.

Moreover, it is not a grand jury’s duty to find a person guilty or innocent of a crime. Its only job is to determine if there is enough evidence for the federal government to formally charge someone with a crime. As such, it abides by a lower bar than the one used by court juries that must find people innocent or guilty.

If a grand jury finds that there is enough evidence to charge you, you can expect to be charged relatively quickly with whatever offense for which the federal government was investigating you. You can also expect your first hearing to be scheduled quickly. During this hearing, you will be informed of the charges against you.

Your next step after your initial hearing is to appear in an arraignment hearing. During this hearing, you have the right to have your lawyer present with you. You can also enter a guilty or not guilty plea.

The judge will then set your bond, which may need to be paid in cash, depending on for what crime you have been charged. If you plead not guilty, you can expect a trial date to be set for when you will appear next before a judge and jury.

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Your Rights When You are Arrested for a Federal Crime

Even if you are charged with a federal crime, you have rights afforded to you under the Constitution. Your foremost right involves hiring or having an attorney appointed to take your case.

You also have the right not to answer any questions until you have a lawyer present with you to advise you. Your attorney can make sure that you do not incriminate yourself in a crime that you did not commit.

Your lawyer can also advise you on whether or not it is better for you to accept a plea deal. You may be told to take a plea deal if there is a risk that the court could find you guilty and sentence you to harsher penalties than what the prosecutor offers in the plea. Your lawyer can ensure that you are not taken advantage of and that you are informed of your rights if you decide to take a plea.

Finally, your defense attorney can tell you whether or not you should cooperate with federal authorities investigating the crime in which they accuse you of being involved. You may be told to cooperate if the charges against you can be reduced or dropped altogether.

A defense attorney who has experience handling federal cases can be a valuable ally when you are investigated or charged with a crime. He or she can protect your rights as a defendant. Your legal counsel can also tell you if you should take a plea deal or cooperate with federal authorities during the investigation.

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