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What happens when someone is charged with a federal crime?

If you are facing federal criminal charges, you may wonder what options you have. Because the federal criminal process is different from local and state criminal processes, it's important to have representation by an attorney experienced in defending clients against federal charges. Below, you will find out how the federal criminal process works.

-- Federal cases are heard in one of 94 federal courts with U.S. attorneys filling the role of prosecutors.

-- A grand jury indictment is required for all felony cases unless the defendant waives it. A grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people and determines whether the U.S. attorney has enough evidence against the defendant to charge him or her with the crime.

-- Evidence provided to the U.S. attorneys can come from many sources, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and more.

-- An initial hearing is held after the defendant is arrested. During this hearing, the judge will make a determination on bail after the defendant enters a guilty or not guilty plea.

-- During a process called discovery, all evidence against the defendant must be turned over to the defense, including evidence that may support the defendant's innocence.

-- A plea bargain may be offered by the prosecution. This means that the defendant will plead guilty in order to receive a reduced sentence.

-- A preliminary hearing may be held or it could be waived by the defendant. During this hearing, the prosecution presents evidence in front of the judge to show it has probable cause for the charges against the defendant. The judge may rule there is or is not probable cause. The defendant can waive the preliminary hearing.

-- Pre-trial motions are filed before trial and may include motions to dismiss the charges, change the venue hearing the case, suppress evidence and more.

-- The trial portion of the case may take several months to actually get to. A jury is selected, the attorneys make opening statements and present their cases, the jury deliberates and a verdict is given.

-- If the verdict is guilty, then sentencing will occur. A pre-sentencing investigation is done so the judge can receive recommendations based upon many factors, such as a defendant's past criminal history, if any.

As you can see, this involved process is why an experienced attorney is needed.

Source: United States Attorney's Office, "Steps In The Federal Criminal Process" Nov. 03, 2014

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