Federal Criminal Defense – Everything You Need to Know
When you’re charged in federal court, you need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney – not a general practitioner. Federal cases have different rules that apply – from the admissibility of evidence all the way through sentencing. You will need an attorney who understands the substantive and procedural laws that apply and someone who has successfully defended individuals charged with federal crimes.
Federal Criminal Investigations
There are a lot of differences between the federal criminal system and the state criminal system. For example, state cases are largely reactionary – someone in law enforcement sees something happening or is called out to the scene of a crime and makes an arrest. In the federal system, an Assitant United States attorney brings charges after an investigation has been conducted by a federal investigative agency.
What agencies commonly investigate federal crimes?
There are a number of agencies that commonly investigate federal crimes, including:
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
- Criminal Division of the Internal Revenue Service (CID)
- Customs & Border Patrol
- Child Exploitation Task Force (a division of the FBI)
- Department of Homeland Security
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Immigration & Customs Enforcement
- Joint Terrorism Task Force
- Office of Inspector General
- United States Marshals Service
- United States Postal Service (Postal Inspector)
- United States Secret Service; and
- US Postal Inspection Service
How do you know you’re under federal investigation?
There are primarily three ways to know you’re under investigation. The first is you get a Target Letter. This is a letter from a federal prosecutor informing a person they are a “target” – someone who the prosecutor believes has committed a crime. (You should not contact the prosecutor or agents without a lawyer. You absolutely should not show up to a grand jury without an attorney.)
The second way is being arrested on a complaint. This means a federal judge signed a warrant for your arrest and the prosecutor has not indicted your case yet. This is an opportunity for a federal criminal defense attorney to intervene and at the very least soften the blow.
The third way is to be arrested after your case has been indicted. This means the prosecutor has already taken the case to the grand jury and has formalized or even locked in the charges against you. You will need an experienced attorney quickly to mount your defense and if necessary drop everything to prepare for trial.
What is a federal crime?
A federal crime can be defined broadly as a criminal offense that violates federal criminal law, occurs on federal land, or behavior that can be criminally prosecuted because it crossed state lines. (These days due to manufacturing as well as the electronic transmission of money and information over the internet, almost anything can have a federal nexus.)
Why do you need a federal criminal defense attorney?
It does not get more serious than being charged with a federal criminal case for a number of reasons. The feds are generally more thorough in their investigations, the penalties are much more severe, the likelihood of getting probation is almost nonexistent, there’s no parole in the federal system…the list goes on. Yet, a skilled defense attorney knows how to navigate these troubled waters and find success where others see defeat. If you’ve been arrested for a federal offense, you need a federal criminal defense attorney. Facing federal charges will be one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life and you want to make sure the attorney you have knows the rules of engagement and how to fight for you.
What should you do if you’re charged or being investigated for a federal offense?
First and foremost, you need to stop talking. Do not talk to anyone other than your federal criminal defense lawyer or one you are consulting with. Second you need to hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
At Varghese Summersett, we are known for being tenacious advocates for our clients, and relentless in our resolve to find the best resolutions. Look for someone who has solid reviews and a good reputation in the legal community. Take the time to give them a call and find out if you can talk to the attorney who would be overseeing your case. See if they live up to the hype. Here are some tips in finding the best federal criminal defense attorney:
Choose the right type of lawyer
This bears repeating – you have to find someone who is an expert in this area of law. Most attorneys are not board certified in criminal law. Most attorneys do not have experience trying cases to federal juries. Most attorneys don’t go to federal court on a regular basis. You need someone who does.
Ask if the attorney has handled a case like yours
Every case is different, but as you’re talking to the attorney ascertain whether or not they have handled a case like yours. Is the allegation against you possession of child pornography, a drug conspiracy, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, a violent offense, or a drug case? The laws and sentencing guidelines vary considerably from one case to another. You’ll want to find an attorney who has represented someone charged under the same statute you are being charged under. Understand that federal prosecutors use the same statutes over and over again and will have mastered the nuances of those statutes. Your attorney should have the same command over the laws that apply to your case.
Find an attorney who communicates
Something you should be able to judge easily from your first interaction. Does the attorney understand you, the case, and your goals? How easy is it to reach the attorney? We pride ourselves in our responsiveness to our clients and our ability to communicate with others on behalf of the client. Your attorney becomes the person with the greatest responsibility for putting you in a good light. That’s not a decision you should take lightly.
Research the attorney’s reputation
We have over 425 five-star reviews on Google. No one else in the state comes close. Take the time to actually read the reviews, look at when they were written. These reviews were amassed over years and years, written by clients like you or the loved one you’re reading this page for. You’ll see that each review is genuine and earned. Got a friend who is an attorney or works in the field? Call them up and ask them about our reputation. When your life is on the line – you can’t settle for second place.
Evaluate the attorney’s evaluation
As you’re talking to the attorney, listen carefully to what they are saying. Are they telling you what you want to hear or are they telling you the truth? It is important to us that we shoot straight with you. Our honesty may mean you don’t hire us, and that’s okay. What we won’t do is tell you one thing during the consultation, take your money, then sing a different tune. You will always get a free and fair evaluation of the challenges ahead and the best plan to overcome those hurdles.
Decide what this is worth
Every attorney you talk to is going to have a different price. Hiring an attorney on a federal case is not the place to look for savings. While we provide free consultations, we are up front that federal criminal cases are expensive. These are nuanced cases that require expertise that only years of dedicated experience can provide. You have a long road ahead of you. You’ll have to dig deep financially and within yourself to mount the defense you deserve. Clients sometimes ask if they should use a court-appointed or “panel” attorney and that’s ultimately a very personal decision – because you don’t get to pick your court-appointed attorney. You can gamble your future on the luck of the draw – but is that the right decision for you? I have known many wonderful public defenders, many are my friends, but no one will suggest to you that their caseload resembles anything like the caseload of an attorney who you are hiring to be dedicated to your case.
What are some things you should not do if you’re facing a federal criminal charge:
Don’t hire someone who hasn’t spent a significant amount of time at the federal courthouse.
Even before becoming a lawyer, I spent my entire third year of law school clerking at the United States Attorney’s Office in the White Collar Division. In private practice, I have handled federal criminal cases through north and east Texas. We’ve resolved cases through diversion, pre-trial agreement, even seen dismissals (a true rarity in federal court) and taken cases all the way through trial by jury.
While there are many stages of the process that will take time, do not wait to hire a criminal defense lawyer. The inception of a case is a stage where there will be a number of important hearings can take place that will affect things like pre-trial detention. You generally get just one shot at this – so it’s important to get this right. As much as federal case cost, understand it costs more to try to undo mistakes other attorneys have made than to make the right decisions in the first place.
Don’t hire someone who lacks federal trial experience
Prosecutors know the defense attorneys they are up against. Whether your case goes to trial or not, you need to hire a trial lawyer. Trial lawyers get better offers. Trial attorneys obviously know how to try cases should the need arise. Trial attorneys are not afraid of going to trial. Trial attorneys won’t twist your arm into taking a deal that you shouldn’t – or just don’t want to. Your attorney needs to be candid about risks and rewards but your attorney also needs to be willing and able to fight no matter what the stakes are, if that’s what you want to do.
Don’t give up hope
Facing a federal criminal charge is daunting. Most people who face federal charges have never been in trouble before. Your life is flashing before your eyes. Suddenly you’re research what life is like in federal prison and what are the odds you are going to serve time. It is critically important that you find a lawyer you can trust, who is candid, transparent, and yet can give you hope – because there is life on the other side of this very long road. There are cases that are won and others that are significantly mitigated. Even in cases where clients have given full-blown confessions before talking to an attorney – all hope is not lost. Hang in there – this search that you’re doing now and frankly, the research that got you to read to the bottom of this page – is going to serve you well as you go forward.
For years and years, our team has fought federal criminal defense cases. We’ve built a reputation for being excellent trial attorneys, and savvy inside and outside of the courtroom. The feds have unlimited resources to throw at you. We take your trust seriously and do not take lightly what you are putting in our hands – your life, your reputation, and your future. You may not have unlimited resources like the government but you can definitely hire a team that’s more relentless, dedicated, and willing to go the extra mile.
What are common federal crimes?
- Conspiracy, generally
- Drug Conspiracy (21 U.S.C. 846)
- Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance (21 U.S.C. 846)
- Conspiracy to Distribute Furanyl, Fentanyl, Carfentanil, Methamphetamine, Heroin, Marijuana, Cocaine, etc. (21 U.S.C. 846)
- Possession with Intent to Distribute (21 U.S.C. 841)
- Possession of Child Pornography
- Distribution of Child Pornography
- Solicitation of a Minor
- Real Estate Fraud
- Corporate and Personal Data Breaches
- Credit Card Fraud
- Compromised Email
- Identity Theft
- Internet extortion
- Theft through Non-Payment/Non-Delivery
- Trafficking in passwords
- Trafficking in credit card information
Financial/White Collar Offenses
- Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349)
- Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1343)
- Mail Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1341)
- Money Laundering (18 U.S.C. 1956)
- Wire Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1343)
- Money Laundering (18 U.S.C. 1956)
- Tax Evasion
- RICO – Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
- Ponzi Schemes
- Securities and Commodities Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1348)
- Bank Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1344)
Healthcare Fraud Crimes
- Conspiracy to Commit Healthcare Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349)
- False Statements Relating to Healthcare Billings (18 U.S.C. 1035)
- Healthcare Fraud (18 U.S.C. 1347)
- Medicare Fraud
- Medicaid Fraud
- Pill Mills
- Payment of Illegal Remuneration (1320a- 7b(b)(2)
- Receipt of Illegal Remuneration (42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b)(1)
- Immigration crimes
- Weapons charges
How does sentencing work?
Federal sentencing is always by a judge, and never by a jury. In 1987, Congress enacted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in the hopes of bringing some level of uniformity across the board. However, in 2006, in United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court ruled that these Guidelines are advisory only. Still, most judges grew up in an era when these Guidelines were mandatory. As such, it’s still hard to get them to deviate from a “guideline sentence.”
Federal sentencing in turn has become more complicated and nuanced. It is important that you hire a federal criminal defense attorney who understands the law that applies both to the offense but also to the specific sentence that could apply to your case. We know how to best prepare clients for a presentence report interview, make proper objections, file the proper sentencing memoranda and make the best sentencing arguments in cases that get to the sentencing phase.
We are seeing an increase in the number of case filings in the Northern District of Texas, particularly in the Dallas and Fort Worth Divisions. We are also seeing an uptick in cases filed in the Eastern Division.
Call for a Complimentary Consultation
Benson Varghese – who leads up the federal criminal defense team at Varghese Summersett – is a Board Certified Criminal Specialist, the highest designation anyone can reach in the practice of criminal law and a designation carried by less than 1% of attorneys in the state. He has successfully handled a broad array of federal cases – diverting some from federal prosecution, handling others pre-trial, and taking some all the way to trial by jury. Few attorneys carry the breadth of experience the attorneys at Varghese Summersett possess. Give us a call at (817) 203-2220 for a consultation today.