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Understanding the Judicial Process for Federal Crimes

The process can be overwhelming if you face federal criminal charges for the first time. Federal charges often begin when a person is investigated by a federal agency such as the FBI or DEA. You must seek legal counsel as soon as you know or think you are under investigation. It is essential to retain an attorney after you have been arrested.

Federal cases with higher stakes are usually more time-consuming and complex than state cases. Understanding the different steps in the federal judicial process can help you as you move forward with your case. Working with a skilled federal criminal defense attorney can also answer your questions and help you understand the process so you can make informed decisions about your case.

The Investigation

The investigation process for federal crimes is generally much more complex than for state-based crimes. Most federal charges begin well before a person is arrested. Various federal agencies, including the IRS, SEC, ATF, DEA, and FBI, may conduct investigations for months or even years before they finally make an arrest. Lengthy investigations are common in drug trafficking cases and cases involving white-collar crimes. as soon as you suspect the federal government is investigating you, you need to contact an experienced attorney.

Federal Grand Jury

When the investigators believe they have gathered enough evidence against a defendant, the defendant will be called into a federal grand jury. The grand jury will review the evidence against the defendant. If the jury decides that there is insufficient evidence for your case to proceed to trial, you will be free to go. They will return a federal indictment if they decide there is enough evidence for your case to proceed. At that point, you will be formally charged.

Arrest and Arraignment

If the grand jury indicts you, you will be arrested. You will then attend an arraignment where you will either plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.

Federal Pre-Trial Motions and Briefs

After the arrest and arraignment, your defense attorney can begin attacking the government's case before your trial. Your attorney can submit specific motions and use negotiation tactics to try to have the case against you dismissed or negotiate less severe charges. Throughout this process, your attorney will continue investigating your case and gathering evidence supporting your legal defense. You will also begin developing a legal strategy should your case proceed to trial.

Federal Trial

Throughout the entire process, you will have the opportunity to discuss the status of your case with your attorney. A skilled criminal defense attorney should be able to provide their client with a straightforward, honest analysis of the likelihood of succeeding at trial. Accepting a plea deal, your attorney has negotiated with the prosecutor may be in your best interest.

If you accept a plea deal, you will receive a less serious charge with a less severe penalty in exchange for admitting guilt. Accepting a plea deal may not be in your best interest, however. You may take the risk and fight for your rights during a trial. In that case, your attorney will go to court and advocate for you during litigation. The prosecution and your defense attorney can call witnesses, cross-examine them, and submit other evidence to the court.


If you are convicted of a federal crime, federal sentencing guidelines will apply. as a result, a federal judge is required to impose a minimum sentence if you are convicted. Federal sentencing guidelines include complex sentencing equations that consider various mitigating and aggravating factors. You will benefit from working with an experienced attorney who understands federal sentencing guidelines during the sentencing process.

You could suffer extremely harsh sentences without close examination and the benefit of working with a skilled attorney. An attorney can help present mitigating factors that influence a judge to impose a lighter sentence. If you are found to be not guilty, you will walk away without a criminal conviction.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney in Charlotte

The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, have extensive experience representing clients in various federal cases. We understand the federal rules of civil procedure, and our attorneys have extensive litigation experience. We know how to level the playing field for clients facing federal charges. Contact the Charlotte criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about how we can advocate for you and your rights.