The federal court process includes:
- Arraignment/Detention Hearing
- Scheduling Order with Trial Dates
- Trial of Plea Bargain
- Pre-Trial Services Reports (PSR)
- Post Trail Motions
If you have been charged with a federal crime, you are probably feeling trepidation and stress. You must take federal charges seriously and vigorously defend yourself against these accusations. The federal court process can be intimidating and difficult to understand. Retaining one of the Chattanooga federal defense lawyers at Best & Brock, PLLC can help to answer your questions and give you an understanding of the steps in the process and what to expect.
Schedule your free consultation with Best & Brock, PLLC today by dialing (423) 829-1043 now. You can also contact our criminal lawyers in Chattanooga online.
Your initial appearance is a hearing in front of a magistrate judge that takes place shortly after your arrest. You have the right to have a federal court lawyer present for this hearing, and it is often a good idea. In addition to learning the specific charges made against you, the detention hearing provides you with a determination of the amount of bail that will be ordered. The judge determines whether bail is allowed and, if so, how much must be paid.
The judge will decide bail based on a number of factors, including:
- The charges against you
- Your criminal record
- Your likelihood to flee
If the judge deems you to be a danger to the community, they may deny bail. If bail is denied or you are unable to post bail, you will be remanded to the U.S. Marshals until trial.
You will also be required to make a plea to the charges. You may plead guilty or not guilty to the charges, but it is best to speak with an experienced federal court lawyer before the hearing so you answer properly. A guilty plea means that you agree that you committed the crimes as charged and no trial will be necessary. The judge will set a sentencing hearing date.
If you plead not guilty, additional hearings will be necessary during which time there will be an exchange of information in preparation for trial. A designated federal defense lawyer will be required for communication regarding these events and exchange of information.
Scheduling Order with Trial Dates
A scheduling order provides you with hearing dates and trial dates. A number of conferences and hearings must be conducted as part of the pretrial process. The purpose of a pretrial conference is to help expedite the case and establish procedures for pretrial actions. These conferences are designed to help improve the process and ensure that parties are properly prepared for trial.
The judge issues a scheduling order within 90 days of the complaint or 60 days after the first appearance. It can only be delayed with good cause.
The scheduling order helps to:
- Limit the time to amend pleadings
- Complete discovery
- File motions in the case
- Establish a time limit to provide disclosures
- Modify the extent of discovery
- Preserve electronically stored information
- Require parties to request a conference before making a request for an order regarding discovery
In addition, the scheduling order sets dates of pretrial conferences and trial. The schedule cannot be modified unless it is for good cause and the judge consents to the request.
The discovery process helps your attorney learn information about any evidence that will be used against you in court, helping them to prepare your defense in the best possible manner. In some instances, your lawyer will need to get experts to testify on your behalf or may require reports and other documents to help prove your case.
Trial of Plea Bargain
A plea deal is an arrangement that allows a defendant to plead guilty to reduced charges and penalties, sometimes in exchange for information. A plea deal may also be offered because a defendant accepts responsibility for his actions.
There are some benefits to accepting a plea, including a reduction of the time it takes to resolve the case. Accepting a guilty plea to a lesser charge means that you will likely receive a reduced sentence. The sentences for lesser crimes are lower and therefore you might be facing little or no prison time as a result.
In accordance with Federal Rule 5K1, the government may allow a plea deal in exchange for significant information from the defendant. This information must be critical in the prosecution of another party that has committed a federal crime. This option is only available under some circumstances. At Best & Brock, PLLC, our federal defense lawyers can review your case to determine whether this may be an option in your particular situation.
Sentences are determined by the judge in accordance with the U.S. Sentencing Guide Manual as well as sentencing tables. These guidelines allow judges some leeway in sentencing. The judge may review specific information in your case to determine the details of the sentence.
In addition, the judge will listen to arguments from both the prosecution and defense. If hired, our federal defense lawyers will provide evidence to try to reduce your sentence as much as possible. Some of the sentencing options include probation, fines, retribution, or prison.
A guilty defendant may receive any variation of penalties as allowed by law for the particular crime that was committed. Probation may be allowed without prison time in some circumstances. Probation is generally less than 5 years but the length of time depends on the crime and other factors.
Fines are usually part of almost every sentence. The guilty party will be required to pay fines associated with the crime and may also be responsible for court costs. If the crime involved theft, the defendant may be required to pay retribution to the other party for the monetary value of the property or money that was taken.
Prison time is mandatory in many federal crime sentences. The length of prison time may vary greatly from as short as 6 months to longer than 20 years, depending on the specific details of the crime.
Pre-Trial Services Reports (PSR)
A pre-trial services report (PSR) provides details about the defendant that can be used in the sentencing phase. The PSR may be utilized in cases where a defendant pleads guilty as well as when found guilty at trial.
The report offers information such as:
- Family history
- Ties to the community
- Educational background
- Employment history
- Physical, mental, and emotional health
- Financial condition
- History of substance abuse
- Whether the defendant accepts responsibility for his actions
The report is typically made by a probation officer by interviewing family members and others who can provide information regarding the defendant’s life history. For instance, the officer may interview the defendant’s employer to learn more about his work history. In addition to interviews, the officer will review numerous documents and court files, including financial records, educational reports, and records from counselors and substance abuse treatment if applicable. The officer may also visit the home to determine whether conditions are adequate for release to this particular environment.
Post Trail Motions
There are some motions that may be necessary after a trial is complete. These are known as post-trial motions, the most common of which include a motion for a new trial, a motion for judgment of acquittal, and a motion to vacate the sentence. Your attorney will file these motions if necessary. If legal mistakes were made during your trial, it may be possible to request a new trial. If a sentence is particularly harsh, you may request that the sentence be vacated. This can be done to correct a sentence that was improperly ordered.
Federal crimes are more serious than others and come with extensive and long-lasting consequences. A federal felony conviction will have a lifelong impact on you and your family. You will suffer financially and may be unable to find employment after prison. You could also have trouble getting a loan and getting into college. A convicted felon is not allowed to own a gun. You will certainly face some negative emotional effects as well.
As your advocates, our federal defense lawyers will work diligently on your behalf to defend the charges against you. Evidence will be examined and a defense will be prepared. The goal is to avoid a felony conviction and to keep you out of prison. In some cases, a plea deal may be possible. We can negotiate with the prosecutor to try to resolve the case without going to trial. A plea arrangement may be possible when the evidence against you is weak or in situations where you can provide substantial useful information. Our goal is to ensure you are treated properly throughout the process and that your right to a speedy trial is enforced. Being charged with a federal offense is often very traumatic, however, your attorney is available to guide you through the process and answer your questions along the way. If you were charged with a federal crime you need legal assistance as quickly as possible.
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