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What Happens In a Federal Criminal Case?


If you are charged with a crime, it will fall under the jurisdiction of either a local, state or federal court. Generally speaking, a crime that is committed on land owned by the United States government or that occurs across multiple states will be considered a federal crime. Let’s take a look at what typically happens if you are charged with such a crime.

The Rules are Generally the Same for all Criminal Cases in the United States

The fact that you are facing a federal charge doesn’t have too much of an impact on your rights as a defendant. For example, you still have the right to remain silent, the right to counsel and the right to a speedy trial. Furthermore, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime that you have allegedly committed.

What Are the First Steps in a Federal Criminal Case?

After you are taken into custody, you will be arraigned in a federal court. A judge will list the charges against you and ask for a plea of guilty or not guilty. The judge will also ask if you understand the charges, the implications of your plea and if you have counsel.

It’s likely that you will enter a not guilty plea unless you have already accepted an agreement to plead guilty and skip straight to sentencing. However, it’s unlikely that you will have had time to evaluate a plea deal in the short time between being taken into custody and your arraignment.

After arraignment, a hearing date will typically be set to go over any issues that need to be resolved prior to a trial. By this date, there is a chance that you will have accepted a deal to resolve the case outside of court.

What Happens If You Accept a Plea Deal?

If you accept a plea deal, the case will skip ahead to the sentencing phase. The prosecution will submit its sentencing guidelines to the judge, and a sentencing report will also be commissioned so that he or she can make an informed decision when it comes to accepting or rejecting the agreement. It’s worth noting that the judge can go outside of the guidelines established in any deal reached between yourself and the prosecution in your case.

What Happens if the Case Goes to Trial?

After a pretrial hearing, the next step in the legal process is to select the jury who will evaluate the evidence and render a verdict in your matter. Once a jury has been selected, the judge will set a date for opening statements to be made in the case. From there, each side will have as much time as it needs to make its case before handing the matter to the jury for deliberations. If you are found guilty of the charges against you, the sentencing phase will begin. If you are found not guilty, you are free to go and cannot be retried on the same charge at the federal level.

Your Attorney Will Play a Key Role Throughout the Case

It’s important to hire an attorney as soon as you think that you’ll be charged with a crime. This person will likely try to get the case dismissed by casting doubt on the evidence against you. If that doesn’t work, your advocate will likely take the lead in negotiating a favorable plea deal. Assuming that you don’t take a deal, your legal adviser will defend your interests at trial, and this person will also represent your interests during the appeals process if you choose to dispute a guilty verdict.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, you may face a significant interruption to your life. This is true whether or not you are actually convicted of a specific crime. An attorney may be able to help you better understand the legal process and what might happen as this process plays out.

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