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What to expect if arrested for a federal crime

Any form of criminal investigation is a matter to be taken seriously. Regardless of the severity of the alleged crime, you could face a lengthy investigation and may have to go to court. As we saw in a previous post, it is possible to fall foul of federal laws without realizing you were doing anything wrong. Each state has its own laws which may differ to some extent from federal laws. Similarly, the process for dealing with criminal cases varies between the state and federal systems.

The United States Department of Justice explains the criminal process in detail. As an outline, here a number of steps you might expect to go through if you are suspected of committing a federal crime:

  • You may be investigated by one of a number of agencies, depending on the crime you are suspected of committing.
  • If there is enough evidence to prosecute you, you will receive notice as to the charges that have been filed against you. 
  • Once you have been charged, there will be an initial hearing to make you aware of your rights and arrange for you to have an attorney.
  • Federal crimes go to trial in United States District Courts, of which there are 94. The venue of your trial will depend on your place of residence.
  • In the buildup to your trial, you may discuss a plea agreement. This can enable you to seek a reduced sentence if you feel you will be found guilty of the charges against you.
  • If you are convicted, you will need to return to court for sentencing. However, if you disagree with the sentencing or the conviction itself, you may choose to appeal the decision.

The complexity of the process varies from case to case, but it is important to know your rights and what to expect. It is a daunting thing to face, but federal charges do not necessarily lead to conviction. With a good defense and the advice of a knowledgeable attorney, you may be able to negotiate a plea agreement, or avoid being convicted altogether.

Source: Department of Justice, "Steps In The Federal Criminal Process,"

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