Facing criminal charges of any type can be scary and life-altering. There is the risk of incarceration, fines, or other loss of liberty. However, when a person finds himself or herself in the crosshairs of the federal government, the associated concern often grows. The federal government has a reputation for pursuing and often obtaining significant sentences, usually exceeding what equivalent state laws may call for. This is among the many reasons it is crucial to hire a defense attorney experienced in representing individuals in federal cases.
A key difference between federal cases and Indiana cases is that, with some exceptions, federal charges must be brought by grand jury indictment. Indiana state cases, however, are brought by way of information far more often. An information is simply a document prepared by a prosecutor and filed with the court which lists the charges against the person. But whether by indictment or information, this document lays out the allegations that the government will have to prove at trial – unless, of course, a guilty plea is entered.
There are situations where a guilty plea may be reached before an indictment is obtained. In these circumstances, your attorney may negotiate a plea agreement whereby you agree to plead to an information rather than an indictment. This is not always possible, as many people are indicted before having the opportunity to negotiate such a resolution. But if you and/or your attorney are in communication with the US Attorney’s Office, such a pre-indictment deal may be possible and could result in a better outcome than if you were to proceed to indictment.
Assuming one is charged, the Court will set an initial appearance where you will be advised of your rights, the charges you’re facing, and the potential penalties. The government may ask that you remain detained throughout the pendency of the case, and if that happens the Court will set a later detention hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not to release you, and if so with what conditions.
Early on in your case the government will provide your attorney with discovery. This may include reports, photos, text messages, and other evidence. Some evidence, such as contraband, will not be provided directly to your attorney and will need to be reviewed with the US Attorney and/or agent assigned to the case. Reviewing this evidence is crucial, as it will help you and your attorney decide how to proceed.
In all but the most unique circumstances, the case will conclude with a plea agreement or a trial. You should discuss the pros and cons of each with your attorney, who will advise you on potential and likely outcomes of each based on that attorney’s experience. This advice will include the attorney’s analysis of the Sentencing Guidelines, which the Court will refer to when imposing a sentence if there is a conviction.
To aid the Court in determining a sentence, a probation officer will prepare a presentence investigation report. Often referred to as a PSR, this report contains extensive information about a defendant and his or her offenses. The Court will utilize this information in determining what sentence to impose. Nearly every federal plea agreement provides the Judge with discretion in the form of a sentencing range, so the PSR is critical to the Judge’s decision-making.
Once a plea is entered, or a guilty verdict is reached, the Court will set a sentencing hearing. At this hearing you and your attorney will present evidence and argument in an effort to get a lesser sentence, while the government will do the same with the goal of obtaining a higher sentence. The Judge will ultimately pronounce the sentence, explaining why he or she chose that particular sentence.
If incarceration is ordered, you and your attorney have the ability to ask the Judge to recommend that you be placed in one or more specific facilities that you prefer. Judges will typically include these recommendations in their sentencing orders, though these recommendations are not binding on the Bureau of Prisons. If probation or supervised release is ordered, a number of conditions will be imposed which you will have to abide by. Your sentence will begin as directed by the Court, and that will effectively conclude the federal criminal case.
This is only a brief overview of the general process of a federal criminal case, and each case is unique and may proceed differently. Thus, it is important to speak with an attorney as early into a case as possible. If you or a loved one is facing federal charges in the Northern or Southern District of Indiana, contact the experienced federal criminal defense attorneys at Banks & Brower for help.