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Steps in a Federal Prosecution

If you are facing federal criminal charges and trying to determine your best course of action, it helps to know what you are up against.

Here is a breakdown of the typical process of a federal criminal case:

Phase 1Investigative.  This is the perhaps the most critical of all phases of the process.  If you, a family member, or a business becomes aware of an ongoing Federal investigation, you should get contact an experienced Federal criminal attorney immediately.  Please do not think that talking to the police, FBI, Secret Service, or any law enforcement officer is the right thing to do, even, and especially, if you believe you have done nothing wrong.  Instead, get the advice you need, at the point in the process where you have the best chance of influencing the outcome.  We have been successful in convincing the agents and/or prosecutors not to prosecute.  Do not wait until someone makes up their mind to charge you and you are arrested.

Phase 2: Arrest. A federal case usually starts with an arrest on a criminal complaint or an arrest warrant.

Phase 3: Initial appearance. The initial appearance typically occurs within 48 hours after your arrest, and you will appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. At this hearing, the judge will read the charges against you and determine whether to release you from custody. In some cases, you might be brought to court for the first time on an indictment. In that case, there is no complaint or arrest warrant, and the case proceeds before a district court judge.

Phase 4: Indictment or Information. To get an indictment, the prosecutor must present evidence to convince a grand jury there is probable cause that you committed a major crime. Once the jury has issued the indictment outlining the charges, the case will proceed before a U.S. District Court judge. Less-serious crimes (misdemeanors and some felonies) are charged with a written statement called an information; these cases do not receive a grand jury proceeding. In rare cases, the prosecutor may offer you a pretrial diversion program.

Phase 5: Arraignment. You should usually plead “not guilty” at the arraignment.

Phase 6: Pretrial discovery, motions and hearings. The parties exchange information about the case. One common motion is a motion to suppress evidence. If you are successful on a motion to suppress, sometimes the prosecution will drop the case.

Phase 7: Plea bargaining. Most cases of plea bargaining will result in guilty pleas. However, the judge still has to accept the plea agreement before it can be finalized. Even if a judge accepts the plea agreement, there’s no guarantee that the judge will impose the exact sentence it recommends.

Phase 8: Trial. If no plea agreement is reached, the case will proceed to trial. If the court finds you not guilty, the case is over. If the court finds you guilty, the case proceeds to sentencing. After trial, post-trial motions are filed, sentencing occurs, and an appeal can be filed.

If you’re facing federal criminal charges, working with a former federal prosecutor and experienced Jacksonville federal crimes law firm is in your best interests.