If you have been accused of a federal crime in North Carolina, you may have a lot of questions about the legal process you are about to experience. Prosecution for federal crimes generally gains momentum when a defendant is officially charged. However, this process is somewhat different from that used to address lower-level crimes. Today, we walk you through the process of being formally charged with a federal offense.
Potential felony charges require prosecutors to submit evidence to an impartial group of citizens who are known as a grand jury. The grand jury may call witnesses to testify, and evidence will be presented to support the prosecutor's case. An outline of the case is also provided. The grand jury will vote to determine whether enough evidence exists to charge the individual with the crime. Grand juries can either recommend the case for prosecution or decide not to charge the defendant based on the evidence.
Grand juries are required by the Constitution when certain types of federal crimes are being considered. The grand jury consists of a group of 16 to 23 members, and the proceedings are closed to the public. At least 12 of the grand jurors must agree that prosecution should continue in order for an indictment to be issued. Keep in mind that the federal grand jury system is not commonly used for federal misdemeanor charges.
If a defendant is formally charged by the grand jury, the legal process will continue into a series of hearings for entering pleas and eventually heading to a trial if necessary. Defense attorneys can provide valuable information for defendants as they traverse the legal system. The use of a criminal defense team can help improve the chances of a favorable legal outcome for the defendant.
Source: United States Attorney's Office, "Steps in the Federal Criminal Process: Charging" Aug. 19, 2014