The lawyers of Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A., located in West Palm Beach, FL provide strategic criminal defense for those accused of federal offenses.
Being accused of or arrested for a federal crime is a very serious matter. Federal offenses are distinguishable by the fact that the activity has been criminalized by the U.S. Congress, rather than the individual states. You may be investigated by the FBI, DEA, IRS, or any number of Federal agencies. The laws and process with federal offenses are complicated and challenging, and it is in the best interest of the accused to obtain legal representation from a criminal defense attorney with experience in Federal Court.
What is a Federal Offense?
In the United States, a federal offense, or federal crime, is any act that has been made illegal by federal legislation passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by the President. While the U.S. Constitution provided for the right of states to govern themselves, its Supremacy Clause (Article VI of the Constitution), dictated that when the entire nation’s welfare is concerned, federal law trumps state law:
“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
The first federal criminal statute was signed into law on April 30, 1790. It made certain crimes illegal, including: treason, counterfeiting, piracy, murder, and maiming and robbery in federal jurisdictions. Today, the majority of federal crimes are enumerated and defined under Title 18 of the U.S. Code. Federal tax crimes and several other offenses are defined under separate Codes.
Federal offenses fall into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors carry sentences of one year or less, while felonies are offenses that can result in prison sentences of more than one year to life, and in some case, death. There are five classes of federal felonies and three classes of federal misdemeanors. The U.S. Congress sets the penalties for all federal criminal acts.
Various federal agencies have the power to investigate federal offenses, including: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Internal Revenue Service; and the Secret Service. Federal prosecutions are handled by United States Attorneys who are appointed by the U.S. Attorney General. Federal crimes are adjudicated in Federal District Courts by federal trial judges who are appointed for life by the President, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Some crimes are federal offenses only, and must be prosecuted in a Federal District Court. Some criminal acts are offenses under both state and federal law. In those cases, the decision as to where an offender may be tried is made by federal and state prosecutors.
Examples of Federal Offenses
Immigration and Drug-Related Federal Offenses
Today, immigration cases make up 40 percent of all federal prosecutions, while 22 percent of federal prosecutions are for drug-related offenses, according to federal crime data. However, between 2001 and 2013, more than half of prisoners serving sentences of more than a year in federal facilities were convicted of drug offenses. On September 30, 2013 (the end of the most recent fiscal year for which federal offense data were available), 98,200 inmates (51% of the federal prison population) were imprisoned for possession, trafficking, or other drug crimes.
The Federal Prosecution Process
When someone is charged with committing a federal crime, a law enforcement officer must obtain an Arrest Warrant for the alleged offender. The warrant will be based on a Complaint or an Indictment filed with a Federal District Court. The Complaint is accompanied by an Affidavit which explains the crime committed and the role of the accused in the crime, establishing Probable Cause that the accused actually committed the crime.
As soon as practicable after an arrest, the alleged offender is granted an Initial Appearance before a Magistrate Judge who will advise the accused of his or her rights, determine if he or she can afford an attorney or if a public defender must be appointed, and set any release and/or bond conditions.
Within ten days of an arrest, the accused has the right to a Preliminary Hearing. An Assistant U.S. Attorney will offer testimony to establish Probable Cause, and a Defense Attorney may provide evidence on behalf of the accused. If the judge finds sufficient cause, the accused is bound over for further proceedings by a Grand Jury (unless a Grand Jury has returned an Indictment before the arrest, in which case, a Preliminary Hearing is not necessary).
The final decision to prosecute a federal criminal case rests with a Grand Jury, which is comprised of randomly selected citizens from across the judicial district. Each Grand Jury is made up of 23 people, 16 of whom must be present to conduct business. Only the U.S. Attorney – and not the accused or his or her lawyer – appears before a Grand Jury, whose work is always kept secret.
If at least 12 jurors decide that the evidence against the accused is sufficient to move forward, it will issue an Indictment or a True Bill. Within ten days from the time an Indictment is made by the Grand Jury, an Arraignment must take place. The accused is now considered a Defendant and is read the charges against him or her to which he or she may plead “guilty” or “not guilty.”
If a Defendant pleads “not guilty,” a trial date is set, unless a Plea Agreement can be reached between the Assistant U.S. Attorney and the Defense Attorney. If a trial is held, it must be before a jury, unless that right is waived by the defendant. The government has the Burden of Proof, and must present evidence proving the elements of the offense “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A guilty verdict by a jury must be unanimous.
Approximately eight weeks after the entry of a guilty plea or a finding of guilt at a trial, the Federal District Court Judge will impose a sentence. The sentence may include incarceration in a federal prison, probation, the imposition of a monetary fine, and/or an Order of Restitution directing the defendant to pay to any crime victims money lost or expenses incurred due to the offense. A defendant who is found guilty may appeal the court’s decision by filing a Notice of Appeal.
Potential Repercussions for Federal Crimes
Federal crimes may be misdemeanors or felonies. Sentencing is done exclusively by federal judges, who are guided by the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Under the guidelines, the severity of the offense and the extent of your criminal history will largely dictate the sentence you receive. Your sentence also will depend, in part, on whether your decision was to plead guilty or go to trial. Most individuals who are convicted are jailed as part of their sentence. Some may receive heavy fines and very few will receive probation. The harshest sentence an individual can receive, with the exception of the death penalty, is confinement in a federal prison. Parole has been abolished in the federal system.
Three Reasons to Turn to Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A. Firm for Criminal Defense in a Federal Case
- Our firm is not a high-volume practice. Instead, we focus on those cases where our skills, resources and experiences can help make a profound impact for our clients. Rest assured, if we handle your defense, you and your case outcome are of utmost importance to us.
- Our attorneys are Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyers who have more than 37 years of combined experience serving clients throughout Palm Beach County.
- Our firm has litigated thousands of criminal defense cases and we have the knowledge and experience to develop the best possible strategy for your case.
If you are accused of a federal crime, you should seek competent counsel immediately. It is important to find an attorney who has experience with the federal court system.
If you have questions regarding federal offenses or criminal defense litigation, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation so we can review your case. We are happy to meet or speak with you anytime. Our legal team is experienced, aggressive, compassionate, and will fight for your rights!