What is the Process for Federal Prosecution?

In FEDERAL CRIMINALby johncannon

Introduction to Federal Charges in Oklahoma

The Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys at Cannon & Associates are FIERCE ADVOCATES for those charged with any and all federal crimes. We have successfully defending many clients in federal court across Oklahoma. 

We are led by John P. Cannon, a former Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted crimes in state court before becoming the experienced Edmond criminal defense attorney he is today. A successful defense can result in a case dismissal, dropped charges, or a not-guilty verdict at your federal criminal trial. 

If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been indicted, call us for a free confidential case evaluation. Edmond Federal Crimes Defense Attorney John Cannon is a FIERCE ADVOCATE and available to talk to you today. Call Cannon & Associates at (405) 657-2323 and prepare your defense. 

Facts: Federal Criminal Procedures are complicated

Most people and not familiar with the federal criminal justice system.  This includes many criminal defense lawyers.  In Oklahoma, most criminal lawyers only practice in state court; due in part to the complexity of federal criminal practice and the strict procedures.  This post is intended to give you a basic understanding of the process you or a loved one will face in defending a federal criminal case. No smoke and mirrors. Hopefully, some of your questions regarding federal criminal cases will be answered.

How does a Federal Criminal Case differ from a State Court Criminal Case?

Federal investigators and federal prosecutors have substantial resources to investigate and prosecutor each individual case, which results in federal criminal cases taking more time and fewer indictments / complaints get filed in federal court than in state court. State criminal courts and state prosecution offices are overwhelmed by the number of cases being filed, which results in the majority of state criminal cases having limited investigations. Obviously, some state criminal cases have substantial investigations, such as murder cases or conspiracy cases; however, the majority are limited in depth.  Some federal cases take years to investigate and develop cases. 

A story board for a larger number of federal indictments than you would believe includes the following prior to an indictment being sought before a grand jury: 

  1. A federal wiretap on your phone;
  2. Video surveillance on your home;
  3. Tail that follows and documents your movements;
  4. Convincing a snitch or confidential informant (“CI”) to get information from you;
  5. Seek a confession by you prior to arrest.

How do Investigations of a Federal Criminal Case begin?

As you might expect, there is not one answer to this question. As discussed above, you may be contacted by federal agents, such as the DEA or FBI. You may receive a target letter, notifying you that you are a subject of an investigation. You may be identified as a material witness in the case. Eventually, federal agents, usually with direction of federal prosecutors, will decide to arrest you and question you most likely.  The most important question at this point is whether you confess, lie, or make the right choice and exercise your right to remain silent.

What should I do if contacted by federal agents such as U.S. Marshals, DEA or FBI?

You should simply say the following in a calm and police manner:

  • I will not make a statement;
  • I do not consent to any searches;
  • I want to my lawyer.

You may benefit from speaking to federal investigators; however, you should make that decision with the advice of an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer and only with them present during questioning.  It is important that you hire an Oklahoma federal criminal defense lawyer, because most criminal defense attorneys do not practice federal criminal defense in Oklahoma. 

The federal prosecutor can and will use your own words against you in your federal prosecution. You can even face an additional federal criminal charge of Making a False Statement to a Federal Agent, if prosecutors believe they can prove you lied.  No circumstance exists where you should speak to a federal investigator or federal prosecutor without your federal criminal defense attorney.

What happens when the Feds finish their Investigation?

Federal investigators are some of the best law enforcement officers in the United States, especially Case Agents that lead federal investigations. When an Assistant United States Attorney receives a case from a Case agent; a decision will be made to seek an indictment before a grand jury, immediately file a complaint, or decline to do either. Involving your federal criminal defense attorney in the process gives you the opportunity to positively effect this crucial phase of the case.

What starts a criminal case in Federal Court?

The complaint, referenced above, is often filed first and submitted to a federal magistrate judge. The complaint is a written statement laying out the essential facts constituting the federal offense(s) charged. The complaint must be under oath before a judge. 

In the case of a cooperating witness or an early agreement, an Information may be filed. The Information is generally a result of one of the following: an agreement to assist in the federal prosecution of other defendants or as part of a negotiated plea. 

An indictment can be sought by presentation of evidence before the Grand Jury, if an Information is not filed by agreement. 

What is an Indictment?

Indictment is the equivalent of a Felony Information in Oklahoma state court felony cases. Felony require an Indictment to prosecute. The indictment contains a written statement of allegations and refers to the violated federal statute(s). Federal prosecutors have the authority to seek Superseding Indictments to add additional counts or charges. 

When does an Arrest Warrant issue in Federal Court?

When a Complaint is presented, if the judge determines probable cause exists to support a federal offense, the judge will sign a warrant for your arrest. U.S. Marshals or other law enforcement officers will act on the warrant. 

What does the Grand Jury do?

The grand jury hears evidence presented by federal prosecutor and determines whether sufficient evidence exists to indict the individual. The grand jury consists of 16 to 23 members and must have 12 votes in favor of indictment in order for a “True Bill” or Indictment. When the Grand Jury has 23 members and only 12 must vote in favor of Indictment, that is barely 50%! 

The federal prosecutor, the current witness, and a court reporter are the only people allowed to enter proceedings, while the Grand Jury is in session, i.e. no Judge or defense counsel. The Grand Jury deliberates in private. All proceedings are recorded, which is kept by the United States Attorney. The Indictment is usually sealed, which means no one knows about it / who was Indicted. The purpose of Sealed Indictments is to allow federal agents to arrest defendants before they can flee or hide. 

Do I go to detention or before a Judge when I’m arrested in Federal Court?

In the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, you will typically see a magistrate judge within 48 hours of being arrested. However, you must be taken to a magistrate judge “without unnecessary delay”. This appearance is unsurprisingly called an Initial Appearance. In every felony case the Judge shall tell you:

  • The complaint filed against you and accompanying affidavit(s);
  • Your Right to a Lawyer or assistant public defender if you cannot afford a lawyer;
  • The circumstances, if any, that would allow your release pending trial;
  • Your right to a preliminary hearing;
  • Your right to remain silent and that your statements can be used against you; and
  • A reasonable opportunity to speak to a lawyer.

What happens at Arraignment in Federal court?

At Arraignment, you will appear in person before a federal judge and enter a plea of not guilty to the charges, except for unusual circumstances.  You will be given a copy of the Indictment or Information and given an opportunity to review it with your lawyer, including the maximum penalties and mandatory minimum sentences, if applicable, i.e. many drug and gun cases. 

The charges in the Indictment or Information shall be read to you, unless you waive reading. Your defense lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf, even if you plan to later enter a guilty plea.  Additionally, your federal criminal defense attorney will likely request a Standing Discovery Order and demand jury trial. The judge will set the filing deadline for pretrial motions and a trial date, which will be on a much shorter timeline than state court criminal proceedings. Sometimes a federal criminal trial will be set a month after arraignment. Conversely, you may waive your right to a speedy trial.

What happens after the Arraignment?

After arraignment, your federal defense attorney will get discovery; specifics of discovery depends on the case, i.e. drug cases typically include audio/video recordings of drug conspiracy; fraud cases come with volumes of documents; gun cases will typically come with electronic records or reports confirming your possession of firearms; and bank robbery cases will likely come with wiretaps and videos of the bank robbery. 

You and your federal criminal defense attorney will begin discussing trial strategy once you receive discovery, which may result in the opportunity to seek an agreement to plea to a lighter sentence, if you do not want to contest your case at trial. Just like in state court criminal proceedings, the government will often offer a reduced sentence in exchange for not having to prove your guilt at trial.  However, we can and will help you fight your case through FIERCE ADVOCACY by motion practice and trial, if you are innocent.

What do Pretrial Motions consist of federal criminal defense?

Pretrial motions in federal criminal defense are similar to many pretrial motions filed in state court criminal defense.  Pretrial criminal defense motions generally seek to exclude / suppress evidence or other Orders of the Court. All Motions are filed electronically in federal court with the Court Clerk through the ECF system. Motions are accompanied by proposed Orders for the Court to consider and grant or deny. Proper motions include specific facts and law to support the requested relief.  

The most important pretrial motion in most federal criminal cases is a Motion to Suppress Evidence. This type of motion seeks to exclude evidence from consideration by the jury in your case. The most common basis for a Motion to Suppress in federal criminal cases is a violation of your Fourth Amendment or Fifth Amendment rights. Although that sounds simple, there are thousands of cases that have been decided covering these two Amendments to the Constitution and their meaning/application. Finding applicable and binding “precedent” or decisions of courts that must be followed is one of the most powerful skills of a federal criminal defense attorney. 

The federal prosecutor is entitled to submit an objection or response and will do so to try to convince the judge to not exclude / suppress evidence, unless the federal prosecutor agrees with your arguments, which is rarely the case. It is an adversarial process after all! The judge will schedule a hearing before trial or rule on the briefs, which is why it is crucial to hire a defense attorney that is a good writer. 

At the hearing, if granted, the prosecutor will present agents involved in the alleged violation of your rights and your federal criminal defense attorney will be allowed to cross examine their testimony, version of events. After the hearing on the Motion to Suppress, the Court will reach a decision and publish an Order in your case, which will also be filed electronically.  

Should I plead guilty to federal criminal charges?

It depends on the strength of the prosecution’s case based on admissible evidence and the story your federal criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf; I know a half answer, but it is true. The decision to take a case to trial and risk substantial prison time in a federal prison is not a decision to be taken lightly. You have a Constitutional right to a jury trial in a criminal case and you should seriously consider all your options. A skilled federal criminal defense attorney will hold the prosecution to its burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury. 

Many federal criminal defendants enter pleas in federal criminal court; however, there is no right to a plea agreement. As previously stated, federal prosecutors often offer plea agreements to avoid the resources required to try every case.

What if I am found guilty in federal court?

The likelihood of being sentenced to federal prison greatly increases, if you maintain your innocence and you found guilty in federal court. The length of time you will spend in prison is a very complex process that is further explained in the Federal Sentencing page of our website. However, briefly a large number of factors determine the sentence in your case, including: the federal crimes, the facts, the victims, the federal sentencing guideline range, any aggravating or mitigating factors, your prior record of criminal activity, and the argument/information presented by your lawyer.  

Ultimately, the sentence is decided by the judge.  The sentence is supposed to be “sufficient but not greater than necessary” to achieve certain enumerated factors of Federal Sentencing.  First, the Court will determine the guideline range for the offenses, then the Court will consider anything else presented for consideration. Generally, federal judges are prohibited from sentencing a defendant to something less than a minimum mandatory prison sentence. 

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers serving Accused in Oklahoma

At Cannon & Associates, we provide experienced federal criminal defense for those accused of state and federal crimes in Edmond, Oklahoma City, and beyond in Oklahoma. We understand the federal detention hearing process, federal criminal jury trial, and the guidelines governing federal criminal proceedings and sentencing for federal crimes.

We offer free confidential case evaluations and can advise you on the steps to seek pre-trial release and defending your federal criminal case as a whole. 

Conclusion

Experience matters when you are facing federal indictment in Oklahoma or the potential loss of your freedom. It is important to know the Oklahoma federal criminal defense lawyer you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of federal criminal defense and federal sentencing guidelines. John Cannon, owner of Cannon & Associates is a former prosecutor and very experienced in the law and issues associated with fighting federal criminal charges and criminal jury trial. He has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and Top 40 under 40 in criminal defense. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your rights and Fight your case. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at 405-657-2323 for a free confidential case evaluation.