Federal Criminal Process – What You Need to Know if Accused
The federal criminal process is confusing at best, and frightening at worst, especially if you find yourself arrested and charged for a federal crime. Federal crimes can touch a variety of issues, including:
If you’ve been arrested on federal criminal charges, having an experienced federal criminal law attorney on your side can be the difference between life and death. Understanding the federal criminal process can help alleviate some of the anxiety you may be feeling, and can enable you to assist your attorney in making your best defense. This article will walk you through the federal criminal process step-by-step.
Before you can be arrested and charged with a federal crime, an investigation must be done. The federal government has a whole host of agencies dedicated to investigating federal crimes, including the FBI, DEA and ATF. It is the job of the investigating agency to obtain evidence that the prosecutors will use to make their case against you.
The Federal Grand Jury Indictment
A federal grand jury must be convened to determine whether federal felony charges may be issued. During this hearing, federal prosecutors present evidence to the grand jury, which will then make the decision on whether to issue an indictment. An indictment is an outline of the charges against you.
After your arrest, you will be charged and brought before a magistrate judge. During this pre-trial hearing, called an arraignment, you will learn more about the charges against you and what your rights are at this point. You may also have an attorney assigned to you, if you have not obtained one for yourself. The judge will also determine whether you will be released or held until trial. This is also the time when you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. It is critical to talk to an attorney prior to doing this.
After the arraignment, both prosecuting attorneys and defending attorneys get to work in gathering more information. This is called the discovery process where they interview witnesses and gather documents and other evidence. During this time, there may also be an opportunity to bargain for a lesser sentence. If you decide to plead guilty and accept a deal from the prosecution, you must do so in court to the judge, who will then decide the sentence.
Preliminary Hearings and the Trial
If you do not enter a plea, then a preliminary hearing will be held, although you may choose to waive it. During this preliminary hearing, the prosecuting attorney must show enough evidence to provide probable cause that you committed the crime. If the prosecution does this, then a trial is scheduled, if not, the charges will be dismissed.
At the trial, the prosecuting attorney will call witnesses and present evidence to support the government’s case against you. Your criminal defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses and present your case as well. A jury will decide whether you are guilty or not, depending on the evidence presented.
If you are found not guilty, you are free to go home. If you are found guilty, then the judge will determine your sentence.
The federal criminal process can be long and intimidating, the results of which can have life-long consequences. Trust the Albuquerque criminal defense attorneys at the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices to provide you with the best possible defense. Contact us today either online or at 505-200-2982 for a free case evaluation.