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What to Look for in a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 23, 2023

When you're facing federal criminal charges, the stakes are high, and the consequences of a conviction can be severe. Your choice of legal representation is not one to be taken lightly.

Most people are unfamiliar with the process of a federal criminal case filed by the United States Department of Justice. Alleged violations of federal laws can only be handled in federal courts.

Some common federal offenses are drug crimes, money laundering, counterfeiting, immigration offenses, murder, tax evasion, identity theft, mail fraud, wire fraud, healthcare fraud, and child pornography.

What to Look for in a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney?
You must have a highly skilled defense lawyer when you are facing federal criminal charges.

Notably, federal prosecutors can pursue charges against an individual or an entity. Still, the vast majority of crimes are handled by local state-level courts.

Congress eliminated parole for defendants convicted of federal crimes, which means they will typically serve their full prison term.

Federal investigations are handled by various federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Still, they often become partners with local state law enforcement agencies when conducting sting operations or executing search warrants.

The client faces an essential decision once a case is filed in federal court.  They can negotiate a plea agreement to resolve or fight the issue in a federal jury trial. In federal court, plea bargaining is more formal than in state court.

Suppose you are under investigation by federal law enforcement authorities or have already been indicted for a federal crime.  In that case, immediate intervention by an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is often the key to achieving the best possible outcome.

The attorney you choose can significantly affect the outcome of your case, your life, and your future. Let's discuss what you should look for when hiring a federal criminal defense attorney.

Why Is It So Important to Choose the Right Attorney?

Federal charges are not brought on a whim. Trying a defendant in federal court is time-consuming and expensive, and federal prosecutors generally don't bring charges unless they have a high level of confidence that they can convict you based on the evidence.

Why Is It So Important to Choose the Right Attorney?
Federal prosecutors normally have a high level of confidence they can obtain a conviction.

By the time you are indicted, federal investigators have already spent months and possibly years looking into the evidence suggesting you committed a crime.

They have also engaged the services of a seated Grand Jury to look at this evidence and decide whether there is probable cause to bring charges against you. In other words, the prosecution has already built much of its case against you before you even begin preparing a defense.

Your best hope of getting a fair outcome in the face of these odds is to ensure the attorney you choose has the skills and experience needed to mount a vigorous defense in federal court, preferably accompanied by a successful track record.

Additionally, since you will likely be interacting extensively with your attorney in the upcoming months, you want to be sure you hire someone with whom you have a good rapport—someone who listens to you and tailors their defense strategy to your needs.

What Are the Key Traits to Look for in a Federal Defense Lawyer?

When vetting possible attorneys, look for someone with these critical characteristics.

Experience with Federal Cases 

Federal cases differ from state cases and go by different rules and procedures. For that reason, you want an attorney with a fair to wide range of experience representing clients in federal court.

This includes having familiarity with federal sentencing guidelines, rules of evidence, and the federal criminal code.

Working Knowledge of Federal Laws 

The U.S. Code is broad and complex, and the simple fact that someone has passed the bar doesn't necessarily qualify them to know this code. A skilled federal criminal defense attorney must have extensive knowledge of federal laws and regulations, inside and out.

This allows them to develop a strong defense strategy, identify weaknesses in the prosecution's case, and advise you on the best course of action.

Strong Communication Skills 

An influential federal criminal defense attorney must be able to communicate clearly with you to help explain complex legal concepts in a way you can understand. They must also communicate persuasively to negotiate with prosecutors and present compelling arguments in court.

When interviewing an attorney, pay attention to how they communicate with you and how they respond to you:

  • Do they listen to your concerns?
  • Do they answer your questions satisfactorily?
  • Do they explain things well or talk over your head?

Investigative Capabilities

A successful defense often hinges on uncovering evidence that supports your case or undermines the prosecution's claims. A federal criminal defense attorney should have strong investigative skills and resources to gather critical information and build a robust defense strategy.

Investigative Capabilities by a Federal Defense Lawyer
A successful defense strategy in federal cases often depends on uncovering favorable evidence.

Strong Advocacy and Negotiation Skills

Since most federal cases are resolved without a trial, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney must be a skilled advocate and negotiator on your behalf.

They must present compelling arguments and negotiate favorable plea deals or settlements. This trait can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Resources and Network

A good federal criminal defense attorney will have broad access to resources and a network of professionals, such as investigators and expert witnesses, who can be instrumental in gathering evidence and building a solid defense for you.

Reputation and Track Record

When an attorney has a strong track record of positive outcomes for other clients in federal court, they also know how to get the best possible results for you.

Likewise, if the attorney is well-regarded in the legal community—particularly in the venue where your case will be held—you have a better chance that the attorney can prevail on prosecutors on your behalf.

Strategic Thinking and Adaptability

Since federal cases are complex and no two cases are identical, you want legal counsel who can think independently. An effective federal criminal defense attorney will be a strategic thinker who can develop a comprehensive defense plan tailored to the unique circumstances of your case.

They should also be able to adapt their approach as new evidence emerges or legal developments occur, ensuring that your defense remains strong throughout the entire process.

Empathy and Compassion

Finally, facing federal criminal charges can be an incredibly stressful and emotional experience. A federal criminal defense attorney who demonstrates empathy and compassion will understand your challenges and work to support you throughout the process.

They will also provide guidance and reassurance while diligently advocating for your rights and best interests. This emotional support is more important than you might think; confidence that your attorney understands your situation and has your back helps you stay calm under fire until your case is resolved.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

A significant factor in federal sentencing is the applicability of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which appear to be a purely mathematical calculation of a prison term based on offense level and criminal history category.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines
A federal criminal defense lawyer could argue for departures to reduce a prison sentence.

However, a significant part of advocacy for federal criminal defendants is arguing the applicability of the several departure factors that allow a judge to reduce or increase a guidelines sentence based on many factors.

Thus, due to federal case law, these guidelines are now “advisory,” meaning a federal sentencing judge has significant discretion to vary from the guidelines based on another set of multiple factors.

This means effective and persuasive sentencing memorandum by a federal criminal defense lawyer is crucial to persuade the judge to exercise their discretion in departing from the guidelines range and then further varying from that range for a total sentence that could be significantly less than what the initial guidelines range might indicate.

We provide legal representation across the United States on federal criminal matters. You can contact us by phone or use the contact form to review your case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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