Many people think of anything related to the federal justice system as complicated and difficult to understand. When it comes to criminal offenses, for example, you shouldn’t only know what it means to commit a crime; you also need to understand the basis for criminal acts being prosecuted in federal court. Additionally, you need to know the potential punishment, implications and consequences of every federal crime you stand accused. In order to begin preparing for the possibility of you or a loved one being charged with a federal crime, by information or indictment, you should have at least a basic understanding of the different types of federal criminal offenses.

Crimes can be alleged and prosecuted in a variety of jurisdictions, including municipal court, state court, and federal court. Categories exist within these three broad jurisdictions for criminal prosecution. At the state court prosecution level, there are both administrative and criminal proceedings. Similarly at the federal prosecution level there is military justice, including Court Martial, federal administrative law, and federal prosecution. Many crimes can be prosecuted by both state and federal prosecutors. Therefore, it is important to understand the characteristics that may lead a case to being prosecuted in federal court versus state court. 

 The characteristics and severity of crimes prosecuted in federal court varies greatly. There are many factors that vary in federal criminal cases; however, they share one similarity: getting arrested for an allegation any federal criminal allegation will result in a complicated legal process in your future. 

You’ll need to work with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney, such as our firm Cannon & Associates in Oklahoma or our network partners Alcock & Associates in Arizona to understand the situation and road ahead in your federal criminal defense.

Federal Crime vs. State Crime

The first thing you need to understand in evaluating your circumstance is to learn is the difference between federal crimes and state crimes in Oklahoma.

A federal crime is based on the allegation of a violation of federal law, which will typically relate to an event that impacts interstate commerce, including: bank robbery, wire fraud, racketeering, and other white collar financial offenses or crimes with impact beyond the state where the event took place, such as drug trafficking, drug conspiracy offenses, weapon offenses, illegal re-entry, and violent crime with impacts beyond the location of the alleged offense, such as kidnapping across state lines or child pornography.

You are likely facing prosecution for a federal crime, if you are accused of committing a crime that violates United States federal laws. The allegation in any federal criminal prosecution is that you violated United States law or federal law, typically United States Code, Title 18. Federal crimes are investigated by multiple federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the NSA or National Security Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, ATF, and other government agencies. Federal crimes often come with more severe penalties and very fast timelines from initial indictment to resolution or jury trial. 

Subsequent to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt, many federal criminal cases in Oklahoma now originate from investigations by state agencies and local police departments that are now prosecuted by the federal government. Regardless of the agency responsible for the investigation resulting in federal prosecution, the case will be handled by US Attorneys or federal prosecutors.   

You are likely facing prosecution in state court, if you allegedly committed a crime in violation of Oklahoma criminal law, or Oklahoma Statutes Title 21. There are many other state statutes that cover criminal acts outside of Title 21, such as DUI; however, the majority of Oklahoma criminal acts are codified in that Title of our statutes. State criminal allegations are typically prosecuted in a state court by District Attorney’s Offices or state court prosecutors. For example, if you were caught burglarizing a business or a vehicle, you’ll be charged with a state crime. However, if you were caught breaking into or destroying federal property, such as a military base or a federal building, you will likely be arrested and charged for committing a federal crime. 

While there are criminal acts classified only as federal crimes, there are those that may be categorized under state and federal laws. In fact, some of the most common felony offenses are covered under both federal and state criminal laws, including the following:

  • Drug Trafficking and Conspiracy to Traffic Drugs
  • Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person
  • Bank Robbery
  • Fraud and
  • Kidnapping  

Federal Crime Examples

There are different types of federal crimes, the most common of which are:

  • Crimes involving drugs – This includes drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, importing and exporting drugs, distributing drugs to persons below 21 years old, and distribution of drugs near a school or federal facility.
  • Crimes involving firearms – This pertains to illegal possession and transport of ammunition or firearms, using fire or explosives in committing a felony, possession of firearms and explosives in a school or federal facility, possession of a firearm as a prohibited person, and using ammunition or firearms to commit a crime.
  • Crimes involving violence – This category includes first and second-degree murder, felony crimes that resulted in death, conspiracy to murder, involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, assault and robbery, and sexual abuse of a minor. 
  • White-collar crimes – These are crimes resulting from embezzlement, fraud, insider trading, deceit, bribery, forgery, money laundering, extortion, odometer laws violations, and many other nuanced areas of financial crimes that impact the economy. 
  • Crimes that involve kidnapping – Aside from kidnapping, this category also pertains to hostage-taking and ransom.
  • Crimes involving properties – This includes burglary and larceny, auto theft, arson, and other property crimes.
  • Crimes involving lottery and/or gambling – This category particularly pertains to gambling businesses, wagering details or information, and the interstate transport of wagering paraphernalia.

The United States Code contains compiled and codified permanent and general laws of the country, including those pertaining to federal crimes. There are thousands upon thousands of federal crimes in the U.S. as there are multiple ways to interpret a federal criminal statute. 

On the other hand, control and management of all federal criminal prosecutions are the responsibility of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Evidence presented in federal trials and other particular legal proceedings is in the hands of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Also significantly influencing federal criminal procedures is the United States Sentencing Guidelines. 

Your federal criminal defense attorney should be deeply knowledgeable about the guidelines indicated above.  Additionally, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney will be able to quickly identify the potential federal criminal charges you or a loved may face and be able to advise you on likelihood that your matter will result in state prosecution or federal prosecution. 

Federal Crime Consequences

If you are accused of committing a federal crime, you have to go through the following:

1. Arrest and Investigation – The FBI, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), ATF, NSA, and Border Patrol, among other government agencies, investigate federal offenses. In certain cases, the state police assist the agents in carrying out the arrest. Additionally, subsequent to McGirt, many state agencies investigate otherwise state court cases that result in federal prosecution due to Native American Heritage or the location of the alleged offense. 

2. Initial Appearance in Court – You are expected to make your initial appearance in court after you are arrested. This is a procedure similar to arraignment; however, an indictment has not been returned by the grand jury at this point and your case is most likely based on a criminal complaint only. At this proceeding before indictment, the judge will be the one deciding whether the proceedings should continue or not. Additionally, you will be asked to appear in federal court where the allegations supporting the criminal investigation occurred. In Oklahoma, your initial appearance in federal court will most likely be in one of three places:

  1. Oklahoma City for the Western District of Oklahoma;
  2. Tulsa for the Northern District of Oklahoma; or
  3. Muskogee for the Eastern District of Oklahoma

3. Arraignment – Your arraignment in federal court is when the US Attorney or federal prosecutor will formally announce the charges against you in the indictment and where you are allowed to enter a plea through your attorney. You will be advised of the charges in the indictment, the statutory authority for each allegation, the potential punishment for each federal offense, and a synopsis of the allegations. 

Additionally, a probation officer from the US Probation Office will present a report to the parties that will play a role in the determination of whether or not you should be granted pretrial release, i.e. own recognizance bond/be let out of custody while your case is pending, or if an order of detention will be entered preliminarily. 

Finally, at the arraignment, unlike state court criminal proceedings, you will have a jury trial date set on your case, which will dictate the scheduling order or timeline for all events in your case. Most of the time the initial jury trial setting in federal court is sixty (60) days after arraignment, which is exponentially faster than state court. This is one of the most important reasons you need to hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney in your case with the bandwidth to develop time to your case immediately.

4. Detention Hearing – in federal court all criminal defendants are granted an opportunity to seek pretrial release, while the criminal case is pending. This process is called the Detention Hearing. In the detention hearing the federal prosecutor may present evidence and/or witnesses to support the argument that you are a threat to the community and/or a flight risk and that the least restrictive means of confinement to ensure your appearance in court is that you be held in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Office until resolution of your case, i.e. stay in jail. Alternatively, your chosen federal criminal defense attorney will fight for you and seek less restrictive means to ensure your presence in court, including conditions of pretrial release. It will greatly benefit your defense and your freedom, if you are able to be out of custody on pretrial release, while your federal case is pending.

4. Pretrial Phase– If your plea was “not guilty” at arraignment, the pre-trial process begins. You and your federal criminal defense lawyer will have multiple court settings leading up to your jury trial. During the pretrial phase of litigation, your federal criminal defense attorney will receive the discovery in your case, which may consist of hundreds of hours of recordings and thousands of pages of investigative reports to review and analyze. Your federal defense attorney will draft motions and present them to the Court to address issues in your case, including potentially suppression issues or arguments against evidence or witnesses in the case. 

Experienced counsel to research and argue particular legal points in your case is vital to obtain the best possible outcome in your case, which may include dismissing the charges against you or suppressing of evidence. This phase of your federal criminal case may be governed or ruled upon by a federal district judge or the federal magistrate judge assigned by the district judge. 

It is important to keep in mind that you can research and fight aspects of your federal criminal case, while your federal defense attorney also seeks a plea agreement or a potential resolution with the prosecution on your case. In most instances, you can enter a plea and reserve a suppress argument or legal issue to take up on appeal, if you are unsuccessful with an important motion. Whatever you do, ensure you retain an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to guide you through the delicate process of deciding when and how to fight your federal criminal case and when to plea bargain with the federal prosecutor. 

5. Federal Jury Trial – eventually your federal criminal case will result in a jury trial being scheduled, if you are unable to reach a plea bargain or decide to continue to fight your case. The jury trial process in federal criminal cases is similar to Oklahoma state court criminal proceedings. Your chosen federal criminal defense attorney will be allowed to file and argue specific trial motions that may increase your chances for success in trial, including motions in limine to keep certain evidence out, proposed jury instructions that will dictate the law the federal judge provides to the jury (i.e. what the prosecution must prove in order for you to be found guilty), and proposed jury questions or voir dire that may assist the jury in understanding your narrative or your defense.  

Once your federal criminal jury trial begins, the judge will instruct the jury on the law and will likely conduct all jury questioning without your attorney participating directly. However, we often file a request to speak to the jury directly or voir dire the jury, in order to test their fairness or ability to sit impartially in your case. Once the jury is selected and pretrial motions are addressed by the court, it is time for the trial to begin.

The first step in your federal jury trial is opening statements. Your defense lawyer and the prosecutor will begin a certain amount of time to give an opening statement to present your case theory to the jury. Your chosen federal criminal defense attorney’s ability to tell a compelling story is vital in your search for a not guilty verdict. Then the federal prosecutor will put on his or her case against you. Your federal criminal defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross examine every witness and piece of evidence presented by the prosecutor to guide the jury towards your version of the events.

Once the federal prosecutor has concluded their case it is time for your defense attorney to present your case. Once all evidence has been submitted and both parties have rested, the federal district judge will give closing instructions to the jury on what law to follow and the attorneys will have the opportunity to give closing arguments to attempt to persuade the jury. These short paragraphs are only a cursory explanation of the process for a federal criminal jury trial. You must ensure the attorney you hire is an experienced and skilled litigator, if you want to fight your federal criminal case. 

6. Criminal Appeal – You have additional rights to fight your case, if you are found guilty at trial. Although you were unsuccessful at the federal district court level, you are entitled to file a direct appeal with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for any federal district court in Oklahoma, and surrounding states. Every federal district court in the United States falls within one of our Circuit Courts of Appeal, which all fall under the United States Supreme Court. 

You are entitled by federal law to a direct appeal to the Circuit Court from any adverse ruling in federal district court. You must work with an experienced federal criminal appellate attorney, if you wish to seek relief by appeal. The vast majority of appeals in federal criminal cases are as a result of one of the following circumstances:

  • You disagree with a legal ruling by the district court in your federal case, i.e. a suppression motion. As stated above, it is important to keep in mind that you can reserve a legal issue for appeal to the Circuit Court and still enter a plea agreement and be sentenced by the Court. In that instance, your case can still be remanded and dismissed, if the appellate court rules in your favor;
  • You are not satisfied with the verdict in your federal jury trial; or
  • You believe that an error was committed during the court procedure or the legal process

Federal Criminal Trial Process

The following is a more abbreviated or bulleted step of what happens and when in a federal criminal jury trial. The following is not an exhaustive list; however, this covers the majority of steps in the vast majority of federal criminal jury trials. Every case is unique and your chosen federal criminal defense attorney can assist you in developing a strategy and understanding of the specific steps in your federal criminal jury trial. However, the following is an overview and guide of what you should expect in your federal criminal case: 

1. Federal Indictment: The United State Attorney’s Office Criminal Division will present an investigation against you to a grand jury and an indictment will be signed by the foreperson, if he or she believes sufficient evidence exists to prosecute. Alternatively, if you waive an indictment, your federal criminal case may proceed by information, if the parties agree.  The specific section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office that will do the prosecution will depend on the nature of your case or the charges. There are seven Criminal Division sections in most U.S. Attorney’s Offices:

  • Major Frauds
  • General Crimes
  • Reactive Crimes
  • Financial Litigation and Appellate
  • National Security and Cyberspace Crimes
  • Narcotics Enforcement

The pretrial processes identified above will take place prior to the substantive jury trial beginning. However, the following are the most important steps in the federal jury trial. 

2. Jury Selection: The first phase of the trial is jury selection or voir dire. Both parties are represented and allowed to present proposed jury selection questions to the Court. Additionally, both parties are allowed to request the opportunity to speak directly to the jury and question them. However, if granted the opportunity, your federal criminal defense attorney should always exercise the opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions relevant to determine if any of them has a possible bias, which may indicate impartiality and result in the concerned juror’s disqualification.

The district judge will hear arguments by the parties to support the disqualification of any juror and finalizes the juror line-up, and the federal trial will move to the next step: 

3. Presentation at Trial: jury trial is a play or a show, as much as it is a legal proceeding. It is vital for your freedom and your chances for success that you hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney and litigator that is capable of telling your story with passion. The storytelling of jury trial is crucial at every step, from opening statement to closing argument. The following are the most important steps in the presentation to the jury in your federal criminal trial:

a. U.S. Attorney’s Opening Statement

b. Defense Attorney’s Opening Statement

c. Presentation and Challenging of Evidence (both parties take turns)

d. Closing Argument by Both Parties

e. Jury Deliberations

Your case will be dismissed and you will be released from custody, if you are found not guilty. In cases with a guilty verdict, a sentencing date will be set and your defense attorney will present a sentencing memorandum of your behalf and help you argue for a lenient sentence. As mentioned above, you have the option to legally file for an appeal after the sentencing, which is an appeal to the Circuit Court. You aren’t sure to get the result you want – such as an overturning of the verdict, but most lawyers encourage their clients to file for one if there is a possibility of an error or that something was overlooked. Our team of federal appellate attorneys can assist you in evaluating the prospect of filing an appeal. 

4. Federal Sentencing: Books have been written on federal sentencing; however, that depth of analysis is not helpful for the purpose of the article. However, the following is a brief explanation of federal sentencing and its origins. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 is considered the official guide on how federal courts are expected to carry out the sentencing. Federal offenses are evaluated according to how serious they are, which means that the most heinous crimes are given the higher – or highest – level of the offense seriousness. 

There is a possibility the offense level can go up or down, depending on the case conditions. For example, robbery cases where the perpetrator carried and used a firearm or any other weapon will have increased offense levels. On top of the robbery offense, the robber also violated the law by carrying and using a weapon on their victim. However, if you had minimal participation in the criminal act, your offense level can be lowered. This can change accordingly if other factors of your case can have an influential effect, such as your criminal history. 

There are many other aspects that you should understand about federal criminal defense, but you don’t have to be an expert in federal criminal sentencing. You just have to know and completely understand the basics. Going into a battle without knowing who or what you are fighting against is difficult, and nothing good can come out of it. This is why it’s important to get an attorney as soon as you are arrested for a federal crime. Federal criminal lawyers are trained, experienced, and committed to helping people like you. Whether you decide to contact us or not for a free strategy session, we hope this article has been helpful to you in evaluating the process of facing your federal criminal case.

Contact – Cannon & Associates: Federal Defense Attorneys

Experience matters when you are facing criminal indictment in Federal Court. It is important to know the federal criminal defense lawyer you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of federal criminal practice, including sentencing and federal jury trials.  Cannon & Associates is dedicated to being Your Fierce Advocates™ and will fight for your rights in federal court. We cannot ethically guarantee the outcome of your federal criminal case by working with our team; however, we can guarantee that you will have a clear understanding every step of the way and know your options throughout the process. Cannon & Associates is here to support and guide you through all of your options.

Founder John Cannon has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and our team has more 5-Star Google Reviews that 99% of law firms in the State of Oklahoma. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your rights and fight for your case in Oklahoma. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at 405-657-2323 for a free confidential case evaluation.