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What Happens When You Are Charged With a Federal Crime?

Criminal charges are generally categorized as state crimes or federal crimes. A federal crime is any act that is considered illegal under United States federal law and the Constitution. These crimes are prosecuted in a federal court and jail sentences are served out in a federal penitentiary.

Federal crimes may involve violations of federal statutes, including tax laws, securities laws, and immigration laws. Crimes that operate across state lines, through the internet, or across borders may also be considered federal offenses. When you are accused of a federal criminal offense, you have legal rights under the U.S. Constitution. Your constitutional rights include:

  • Right to remain silent
  • Right to confront accusers
  • Right to a speedy and public trial
  • Right to a fair and impartial jury
  • Right to legal representation

How Is Federal Crime Different From State Court?

There are several differences between federal charges and state charges. Each state has its own criminal statute and criminal elements and penalties can vary by state. Federal criminal charges are prosecuted by federal prosecutors, using federal criminal statutes, trying the case before a federal judge, with sentencing in federal prison. Federal crimes are often more serious felonies. Federal courts generally do not handle minor offenses. Examples of federal crimes include:

  • Bribery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Immigration offenses
  • Drug offenses
  • Tax fraud
  • Health care fraud
  • Bank fraud
  • Mortgage fraud
  • Securities fraud

Who Investigates Federal Crimes?

A federal criminal investigation may involve multiple law enforcement agencies, including federal, state, and local agencies. Some white-collar crimes may also involve private companies, including insurance companies or financial institutions, cooperating with federal agencies. Investigators for criminal offenses may depend on the type of offense. For example, tax evasion may involve the IRS and federal drug charges may involve the DEA. Federal investigation and law enforcement agencies include:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
  • Secret Service
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

What Are the Penalties for a Federal Offense?

The penalties for a federal offense depend on the underlying charge, but they should all be considered especially serious. Judges use federal sentencing guidelines when determining the penalties. Felony charges are punishable by more than a year in prison. Federal crimes like perjury have a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison. Healthcare fraud can include penalties of up to 10 years in federal prison. Some federal crimes, like murder during a kidnapping, are capital offenses. This means the penalties can include the death sentence.

Other possible penalties for a criminal conviction include fines, payment of damages, restitution, and restrictions on future activities. Even if the defendant is let out of prison early, they may be under parole restrictions. Parole may require regularly checking in with the parole officer, and being subject to drug testing and random searches.

What Are Some Defenses to Federal Charges?

A criminal defendant has legal rights when facing federal charges. The federal prosecutor has the burden of proof. This means it is the prosecutor’s responsibility to prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant can introduce any doubt into the minds of the jurors on any element of the crime, the defendant should not be found guilty. A federal defense attorney can review your case and identify the best defense strategy available in your case. Possible defenses to federal criminal charges include:

  • Mistaken identity
  • No intent to commit a crime
  • Lack of reliable witness testimony
  • Evidence the defendant was not at the scene of the crime
  • Police violated the defendant’s 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure
  • Lack of mental capacity
  • Self-defense or defense of others

Should I Hire a Federal Criminal Law Attorney?

Federal criminal charges usually come with the possibility of serious jail time. There is a lot at stake in a federal criminal case and it is important to understand your rights to a strong defense. Criminal defense lawyers can represent you in court to make sure your rights are protected. A federal lawyer can identify weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case and gather evidence to support your side.

A criminal lawyer can also negotiate a plea bargain that may give you the best outcome. A plea agreement can be used to have charges reduced, charges dropped, avoid jail time, or reduce the criminal sentence.

How Much Do Federal Attorneys Cost?

The cost of a federal criminal defense attorney will depend on the individual situation. A complex legal case involving multiple parties may be more complicated than a simple misdemeanor charge. Other factors that can influence the cost of hiring an experienced attorney include the penalties involved, the number of criminal charges, and the type of victim involved in the crime. The best way to find out how much criminal attorneys will cost is to contact a skilled defense attorney in your area and talk to them about your case.

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