When you face federal criminal charges in California, the initial decisions you make will affect how successful your defense will be. The federal prosecutor has a lot of resources and will use them to obtain a plea agreement or a guilty verdict. What you say and do matters when arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint, warrant, or indictment. Words you say or how you behave or react can be used against you, and if convicted, you can anticipate harsher penalties than if charged at the state level – so your freedom is at more risk when charged with a federal crime.
At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, we know the stakes in any criminal case are high, but they are particularly so when it involves federal crimes. Our federal crimes defense lawyer in Los Angeles knows the federal justice system well, including how it works and how to work it. We are consistent in our endeavor to hold the prosecutor accountable in proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt and we are just as consistent in proving our clients' innocence or fighting to obtain the best possible outcome – whether that's a dismissal, plea deal, or acquittal. Contact us at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation and learn more.
Steps in the Federal Criminal Process
Federal offenses, whether in California or another state, are dealt with under federal prosecution guidelines, which differ from state procedures. Here are some of the key steps in the federal criminal process.
Investigation, charging, and initial hearing
Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigate and make arrests in relation to federal crimes.
The investigating agency provides the evidence to a federal prosecutor for review and to decide whether to charge the defendant. If the defendant is facing a felony crime, the prosecutor must present the case to a grand jury, which decides whether there is enough evidence to charge the defendant.
After a defendant is charged, there is an initial hearing before a magistrate judge. Importantly, at the initial hearing, the judge decides whether to grant the defendant bail. The judge also asks the defendant to indicate whether they are pleading guilty or not guilty to the charge.
In the lead-up to a trial for a defendant who is pleading not guilty, the prosecution and defense prepare their cases. This involves speaking to witnesses who can give evidence during the trial, examining the evidence, and coming up with a trial strategy.
There is also a process of discovery, where the prosecution must give the defense copies of any evidence they will use during the trial, as well as any evidence that may help the defendant's case. This duty to disclose is ongoing, including during the trial.
Some defendants plead guilty to a charge without going to trial. For example, when there is a strong case against them, they plead guilty in exchange for some concession. In these cases, the prosecution and defense may enter into a plea bargain, where the prosecution agrees not to seek a harsher sentence given the defendant's guilty plea.
If a defendant pleads not guilty to a charge, the matter may go to a preliminary hearing for the prosecutor to demonstrate that there is enough evidence to charge them.
Preliminary hearings are not mandatory and a defendant can choose to waive their right to one.
After hearing the evidence, the judge decides whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. If there is, the matter goes to trial. If not, the charges are dismissed.
Before a trial, the prosecution and defense typically file a range of pre-trial motions, for example, Motions to Dismiss the charges or Motions to Suppress certain evidence. These pre-trial hearings are designed to narrow down the issues for trial so the case runs more smoothly.
At a trial, the prosecutor presents the case to a twelve-person jury. Using witnesses and other evidence, the prosecutor tries to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense lawyer puts forward the defendant's case by challenging the prosecution's evidence, calling defense witnesses, and presenting defense evidence.
Once the jury has heard all of the evidence, they deliberate until they reach a unanimous verdict as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
If a defendant has been found guilty, they will then be sentenced. Their defense attorney may also file a range of post-trial motions, like a Motion for a New Trial or a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence.
If a defendant believes an error led to their wrongful conviction or their sentence is too harsh, they can file an appeal, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court.
Common Federal Crimes Charged in California
Federal crimes include a broad range of offenses. Some of the more common ones charged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) are listed below.
- Child Sex Crimes (18 U.S. Code §§ 2251, 2252)
- Drug Crimes, like Drug trafficking (21 U.S. Code § 841), Drug importation (21 U.S. Code § 952), or Drug manufacturing (21 U.S. Code § 841)
- Fraud, like Securities Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1348), Bank Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1344), Insurance Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1033), or Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1343)
- Sexual Assault (10 U.S. Code § 920)
- Weapons charges (18 U.S.C.A. § 922, § 924)
- White collar crimes, like Money Laundering (18 U.S. Code §§ 1956, 1957), Tax Evasion (26 U.S. Code § 7201), Theft of Intellectual Property (18 U.S. Code §§ 1831, 1832, 2319, 2320), Identity theft (18 U.S. Code §§ 1028, 1028A), or Bribery of public officials (18 U.S. Code § 201)
For any one of these crimes, you face significant consequences. We are talking about years in federal prison and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in fines and fees. If you've been charged with a federal crime, you should speak with a federal crimes defense lawyer in California as soon as possible to understand your rights and the criminal process.
Three Reasons to Hire a Federal Crimes Defense Lawyer in California
Whether you are under investigation or have already been charged with a federal crime, you need a good criminal defense lawyer who has specific experience in federal crimes and your type of case – drug crimes are quite different from fraud and white collar crimes, and the defense will be based on the type of crime. If you still wonder why you cannot do it alone, here are three good reasons.
- Challenging the prosecution's allegations requires skill and a deep understanding of the criminal system and the law. Prosecutors will be experienced and will have any and all resources available to them to prosecute you. You need to understand the process so that you can navigate the system efficiently, timely, and adequately. Federal crimes can also be very complicated. There will be a number of elements that must be satisfied, and you need to know each so that you are prepared to successfully challenge the government when they work to prove its case.
- Investigating and putting forth a strong case requires resources. As stated earlier, the prosecutor will have adequate resources, but so does the agency investigating your case, like the FBI, the DEA, or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The resources they have access to are significantly more than local and state officials.
- Presenting your case in federal court is critical. If you go to trial as opposed to accepting a plea deal – which may or may not be in your best interests – you must know the process. A mistake can adversely affect your case. Plus, you have to persuade a judge and/or jury that you are not guilty, and that takes strategy. Even though you do not have the burden to prove yourself innocent beyond a reasonable doubt, you must be ready to challenge the prosecutor's arguments and evidence that you are guilty. At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our federal crimes defense attorneys in Los Angeles are prepared and thoroughly strategize each case.
Contact a Federal Crimes Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles Today
The stakes could not be higher in the case of a federal crime. You need to be prepared and must have a thorough understanding of the system if there is any chance of success. The Department of Justice does not charge federal crimes unless they believe they can win the case, so the odds are already stacked against you. To fight the charges against you, contact Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc to speak to our federal crimes lawyer in California. You can use the online form or call us at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation.