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What to Expect When Facing Federal Criminal Charges

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jan 29, 2021 | 0 Comments

Most people are not familiar with the process of a federal criminal case filed by the United States Department of Justice. Criminal cases involving federal laws can only be handled in federal courts.

Federal crimes involve offenses committed on federal property, drugs crimes into the country, mail fraud, wire fraud, health care fraud, robbing a bank, among others.

Federal prosecutors can pursue charges against an individual or an entity they believe committed a crime.

What to Expect When Facing Federal Criminal Charges

The vast majority of crimes in the United Sates are handled by local state level courts, but violations of federal laws are investigated and prosecuted by the federal government.

The government pursues federal offenses aggressively, and penalties for a criminal conviction carry heavy fines, restitution, and prison time.

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

To give readers a better understanding on what to expect if charged with a federal crime, our federal criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

Important stages of the federal criminal process 

The federal court process is far different from the state court process and you need to know what to expect at each step. Some of the crucial steps in a federal criminal case include:

The process you face as a defendant charged with a federal crime depends not only on the complex Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure but also on federal code provisions, case law, local rules, and court officials' peculiar practices, customs, and conventions.

To give readers a better understanding on what to expect if charged with a federal crime, our federal criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

Steps to a Federal Criminal Prosecution

Those who face federal criminal charges typically want to know what will happen in the process so that they can help their legal counsel while making their own best decisions. Here is a brief outline of those steps and why each step is important.


F.B.I. or other federal agents, sometimes working with state police, develop crime evidence. They do not file charges. Expect agents to contact you if you are a suspect in a federal criminal investigation, whether those agents identify themselves or not.

Steps to a Federal Criminal Prosecution

Retain counsel if you believe you are under investigation so that you do not unwittingly relinquish your rights.


U.S. district attorneys decide whether to file federal criminal charges in federal district court. Federal prosecutors may generally file felony charges only if a federal grand jury returns an indictment.

A grand jury is a secret panel of from sixteen to twenty-three citizens. You need to retain the best legal help available if you receive notice of a grand jury proceeding. A criminal defense lawyer may not enter the grand jury room but can and should advise a client outside the room.


Criminal defendants generally do not know in advance of an arrest, making an arrest a harrowing time. Federal agents make arrests based on filed federal charges.

Those agents generally take the defendant to their local office for basic information and fingerprinting, while coaxing the defendant into an incriminating statement. Cooperate with any arrest, including giving accurate name and address and other basic identifying information.

Do not relinquish your Miranda rights. Do not give a statement. Instead, use any opportunity agents may give you to contact your federal criminal defense lawyer.


Federal agents who arrest on a criminal charge must take the defendant to the local federal courthouse the same day or the next day to appear before a federal magistrate judge for arraignment.

Arraignment in a Federal Criminal Court

Here, the defendant learns of the charges and certain procedural rights, including the right to counsel. You should have your attorney at the arraignment with you to enter a not guilty plea and advocate for your release on bail.


Federal prosecutors must share crime evidence with a federal criminal defendant's lawyer, including not only incriminating evidence but also exculpatory evidence showing that the defendant did not commit the crime.

Discovery enables your lawyer to interview witnesses, examine documents and other things, and prepare and evaluate your defense.

Preliminary Hearing

In the first two to three weeks after arraignment, the federal magistrate judge must hold a preliminary hearing at which the prosecution shows evidence on each element of the charged crime unless the defendant waives the hearing.

Your lawyer can learn about your case's evidence while advocating for the dismissal of unsupported charges at the preliminary hearing.

Pretrial Motions

When significant issues of law arise around the violation of your constitutional rights, the admissibility of evidence, and the sufficiency of evidence to support the charge, the federal judge assigned to your case hears pretrial motions deciding those legal issues.

Plea bargaining occurs around pretrial motions, depending on their outcome. Pretrial motions are among the best opportunities for your lawyer to aggressively advocate on your behalf.


If the federal court does not dismiss the charge, and the defendant does not accept a plea bargain, the case proceeds to trial before a twelve-person jury unless the

Trial in a Federal Criminal Court

defendant and prosecution waive a jury, in which case the federal judge decides charges. Trials involve:

  • opening statements,
  • direct and cross-examination of witnesses,
  • motions,
  • objections,
  • instructions, and
  • closing arguments.

The court may hear further motions post-trial.


Sentencing of a convicted defendant usually happens months after the trial. Federal officials must first investigate and prepare a presentence report for the defendant's challenge and judge's review.

The federal judge then holds the sentencing hearing at which victims and the defendant may present statements.

A defendant facing sentencing needs skilled representation to ensure a fair presentation and that the court follows federal sentencing guidelines, and to advocate for the minimum sentence.

An appeal follow, where defense lawyer may successfully challenge adverse trial outcomes.

Best Criminal Defense Attorneys for Federal Crimes

The best advice that anyone can give you when facing federal criminal charges is to retain the best available legal counsel. Our federal criminal lawyers have a track record of success defending clients across the United States against the most serious charges.

Federal criminal procedures can mystify lawyers who only defend against charges of crime in state court. The federal and state systems have:

  • different rules,
  • procedures,
  • codes,
  • case law, and
  • practices.

You need a lawyer experienced in navigating the federal system and who has an excellent reputation and respectful relationships with the federal officials handling your charge.

Best Criminal Defense Attorneys for Federal Crimes

Don't get in over your head and don't frivolously give away the procedural and constitutional rights that guarantee you a fair process and allow you a vigorous defense.

You have too much to lose by making bad decisions that lead to a conviction. We know how to help you navigate federal procedures to achieve the best possible outcome.

Federal criminal procedures are there to protect you, holding you innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But you must know how to use those procedures for their intended purpose.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a nationally recognized criminal defense law firm serving clients in California and throughout the United States.

Our office is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is next to the Van Nuys Superior Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our firm to review your case at (877) 781-1570.

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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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