Common Questions & Answers About Federal Crimes for Texas Residents
What you should know about federal crimes in Texas
Being charged with a crime can be frightening, as well as confusing, particularly if you’re facing a federal offense. You need an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer to navigate through the tough questions regarding your specific case.
Not all lawyers are licensed to practice in FEDERAL court. You need to ensure any lawyer you are considering hiring is licensed in FEDERAL court and has handled criminal cases there, including trying them. Never rely on a lawyer just saying, “I handle federal cases.” Find out how many cases they’ve handled, ask if they’ve gone to trial, and find out where they are licensed in federal court.
Here are some basic answers to the most frequently asked questions about federal crimes.
What is considered a federal crime?
Essentially, a federal crime is an act that violates the federal laws of the United States of America. This often happens when a crime crosses state lines and involves more than one jurisdiction. It can also include cybercrime and other offenses committed online. In short, anything involving “interstate commerce” is a federal crime.
Can federal charges be reduced?
A charge can be reduced or dismissed depending on the circumstance. An attorney will defend you by attempting to have the prosecution reduce or drop charges, as well as advise you on what is in your best interests.
Depending on the evidence possessed by the prosecutor, there is always an opportunity to potentially avoid trial, as the prosecution wants to proceed where there is the best chance for a conviction. In federal cases, settling the case and limiting sentencing exposure is a common goal for the defense.
Another possible opportunity to have a charge reduced is by your lawyer accepting a plea bargain. This happens often when there is sufficient evidence for the prosecution to achieve some degree of conviction in your case, but you’re able to plead for a lesser charge. This ensures both parties have a favorable outcome by avoiding the risk of trial and the severe sentences that can follow a conviction at trial.
What happens when a case goes to federal court?
If the case proceeds to trial rather than be settled in pre-trial, this is where the prosecution will produce evidence to support the charges against the defendant. A jury or judge determines guilt. A judge does sentencing if there is a conviction.
- Motions can be filed by both sides if they need to ask a judge to intervene along the way. These requests can be to assist either side, to ask for certain evidence to be dismissed, to request charges be dropped or modified, as well as to ask a judge to demand certain involved parties to testify.
- Discovery is when both sides have access to all evidence collected either for or against the defendant.
At trial, lawyers choose jurors to hear the evidence. From a pool of community members, each side questions potential jurors and a group is chosen to satisfy the requirements of the law for participation.
Next, the process continues by which each side presents opening statements, followed by presentation of evidence and testimony of any witnesses. This will include both sides asking questions of each witness that takes the stand.
Once that process is concluded, closing arguments are given by both prosecutor and defense counsel. Afterward, the judge will issue instructions to the jurors, who will then deliberate amongst themselves as they decide how to vote. Once they’ve decided on a defendant’s guilt or innocence, they will return to the court with a verdict. If this is a trial without a jury, it means the judge hears the case instead and will reach the verdict on their own.
If the defendant is found guilty, whether on a single charge or multiple charges, it is time to move on to the sentencing phase of trial. Sentencing generally takes into account a defendant’s background, arrest and conviction records, character, employment and economic history, social support system, etc. The impact of a crime on the victims is also considered before a sentence is passed.
Both defendant and victim (if applicable) have a legal right to be present in the court at sentencing. This is the time when the judge will hand down the sentence. The judge will decide the length of prison time, fines to be paid, etc. Post-sentencing, the defense will review any appeals the defendant may be legally entitled to exercise.
How long do federal cases last?
The average federal trial itself takes roughly a week or less. However, pre-trial processes are time-consuming and often the case won’t reach the date for trial for many months, depending on how many cases a specific court already has scheduled.
Generally speaking, it takes between many months, and sometimes much longer, for a federal case to conclude from start to finish, depending on the nature of the charges and volume of discovery.
What determines whether a criminal case is state or federal?
A federal court will hear the case if it involves violations of federal law. These typically include if:
- The case involves violations related to bankruptcy, copyright and patent law or laws at sea
- A case involves some alleged offense in two or more states
- A crime started in one state and proceeded across the borders into another
- It is a cybercrime involving the use of the Internet
- Any crime involving interstate commerce, including banks and wires
What are the penalties of a federal crime?
Federal sentencing has its own set of guidelines. Judges look at the history of the person convicted of a federal crime and determine the sentence based on factors such as nature of the offense, need for a strong sentence and the kind of sentence available for specific offenses. As a result, sentencing varies wildly.
For instance, white-collar crimes involving financial fraud or theft often come with requirements to pay restitution or reimbursement for funds stolen from money laundering, tax evasion, bank and wire fraud and securities fraud. Offenses involving firearms, kidnapping, sex or drug trafficking often see maximum prison time of 5 to 50 years in prison. Your lawyer will review the different classifications of federal crimes with you.
Do I need a federal criminal defense lawyer?
If you are facing a federal charge, you should immediately employ the services of an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. At no time should you attempt to engage with the federal government or prosecution without having someone on your side legally to advise you before you meet with anyone. Their job is to convict someone, and if they are threatening you with charges, you should not say anything that might incriminate you. Instead, call a qualified federal criminal defense attorney immediately.