Federal Crimes FAQs
What’s the Difference Between Federal and State Crimes?
The vast majority of criminal offenses are prosecuted in the state in which the offense occurred. Congress does, however, define and penalize certain offenses that constitute crimes at the federal level. A federal crime is generally tied to a federal or national issue, including the following:
- The defendant who committed the criminal offense crossed a state line (kidnapping, drug trafficking).
- The actual crime crossed a state line (Internet fraud).
- The criminal offense occurred on federal land (National Forest, Indian Reservation, Military Base, etc.) or involved federal officers, such as a DEA agent.
- The criminal offense involves fraud, deception, or misrepresentation against the federal government or its agency. (SBA, IRS, etc.)
- The criminal offense involved immigration or customs violations (human trafficking, etc.).
Seeking Top Criminal Trial Lawyers When It Matters
Lee Ciccarelli and his criminal team our experienced and devoted to fighting for our clients. Contact our federal criminal defense team today if you are seeking a federal criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania. We serve clients in Pennsylvania including the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area, including West Chester, Lancaster, Norristown, Media, King of Prussia, Doylestown, Harrisburg, Reading and Lebanon. Contact us today by email or call us at (610) 692-8700. State lawmakers can conceivably pass almost any law, however, federal lawmakers can only pass a law when national or federal interests are at stake. As an example, because the U.S. government prints money, counterfeiting that money becomes a federal crime.
What are Some Examples of Federal Crimes?
The following are some examples of federal criminal offenses:
- Tax evasion/tax fraud
- Mail fraud
- Drug trafficking
- Hijacking an aircraft
- Bank robberies
- Child pornography
- Credit card fraud
- Identity theft
- Computer crimes
- Hate crimes
- RICO violations
- Espionage Act violations
- Patriot Act violations
- Illegal wiretapping
- Art theft
- Destroying or damaging public mailboxes
- Election fraud
- Immigration offenses
- The attempted assassination of a President or Vice-President
Some of the above offenses are state offenses unless they occur on federal land, or the perpetrator crossed a state line. Some offenses can be prosecuted in both state and federal court, although this is relatively rare.
Are Federal Criminal Charges Worse Than State Charges?
Federal charges are generally more serious than the same charge in state court. Since the government prosecutes fewer cases than state governments, they bring significant resources to the table. Further, the penalties for federal criminal offenses are generally much more severe than those for state criminal offenses.
Who Investigates and Prosecutes Federal Crimes?
While state court judges—even those the governor appoints—must sit for re-election, federal court judges are appointed by the President of the United States, and that appointment lasts for their lifetime. Federal crimes are usually investigated by federal officers from FBI, DEA, IRS, ICE, etc., and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys. State crimes are prosecuted by city attorneys or state district attorneys and are investigated by local law enforcement, state agents, or county sheriff’s departments.
What Role Does the Grand Jury Play in a Federal Crime?
Grand juries are often used to “screen” criminal indictments in state criminal charges, however, in the federal realm, a grand jury must be used for all felony offenses under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. State courts are more likely to use a preliminary hearing before a trial court judge rather than a grand jury. If a grand jury agrees there is sufficient evidence against the suspect, a “true bill” will be issued, meaning charges will be filed.
If I’m the Target of a Federal Investigation Will I Know That?
Unless the feds want to talk to you about the suspected criminal offense, you are unlikely to know that you are the target of a federal investigation. If you feel you are under investigation by a federal investigative agency, you are probably right. If you end up getting a knock on your door in the middle of the night, or agents appear at your workplace you can safely assume you are under investigation and should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.
What Happens When You are Charged with a Federal Crime?
If you are arrested and charged with a federal criminal offense, you must attend your arraignment, where the charges will be formally read against you. You will be given the option to enter a plea. If you plead not guilty, the process will include discovery and motions and plea bargaining may continue throughout the process.
If no plea is reached, your federal trial will follow the same general procedure as in state court, with jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, deliberation, verdict, and sentencing. The Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is divided into Financial Litigation and Appellate, Cyberspace Crimes, National Security, Reactive Crimes, Narcotics enforcement, Major Frauds, and General Crimes. Your criminal offense will dictate which section will be prosecuting you.
Where Will My Federal Case Be Tried?
In the state of Pennsylvania, cases involving federal criminal violations will be tried in one of the three United States District Courts: The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Any federal appeal will go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
Is Asset Forfeiture a Given in a Federal Crime?
Not every federal criminal case allows the seizure of assets; forfeiture can be used only if the specific crime allows for it. Federal criminal forfeiture is permitted in cases of money laundering, child pornography, copyright infringement, organized crime, and drug trafficking, but only after the defendant is convicted of the federal criminal offense. Property can also be seized in civil proceedings or by administrative action under federal laws, without the benefit of a criminal conviction. For assets to be seized in a criminal case, the federal prosecutor must show the property was involved in the criminal activity and the property must be identified by the prosecutor so any other person with a claim to the property can come forward.
Can I Get a Reduced Sentence if I Cooperate?
If the federal government believes you are a “small” fish, and that you can help them nab a “bigger” fish, they may offer you reduced charges—or even offer to drop your charges altogether—if you help them. Cooperation with the government can be a slippery slope. You should involve your attorney in any decisions like this. Generally speaking, a decision to cooperate should be done at the earliest stage of your case, especially if the information you have is crucial to the government in prosecuting other defendants.
Should I Consider a Plea Bargain in my Federal Criminal Case?
The vast majority of federal cases filed are resolved via a plea agreement; the government rarely files a criminal case without sufficient evidence to back it up, so will generally entertain a plea agreement. If you are offered a plea agreement, that agreement will depend on many factors, including the type of crime you are charged with and whether there are aggravating factors.
It is almost inevitable that you will be punished more harshly if you are found guilty than if you take a plea agreement, therefore, entering into a plea agreement gives you more control. Usually, when the federal government offers you a plea agreement, it includes a deadline for your decision, and you are unlikely to be in a favorable position to either withdraw your plea or challenge any sentence handed down by the judge. For all these reasons, you should carefully consider a plea agreement.
Are Federal Prison Terms Longer Than State Prison Terms?
In general, federal prison sentences are longer than state prison sentences since many federal charges have mandatory minimum sentence lengths. This means that a sentence for a federal crime is likely to be longer than for a state sentence for the same crime. Federal prisons usually have higher security levels and tend to be marginally safer than state prisons.
What are Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
Federal sentencing guidelines are considered by judges when determining an appropriate sentence for any individual convicted of a federal offense. A combination of the severity of the crime, along with a person’s criminal history to calculate a sentencing range.
How Important is Having a Criminal Defense Attorney for My Federal Criminal Case?
If you have been accused of a federal criminal offense, you must take the matter very seriously. To that end, you must ensure you are represented by an attorney who has significant experience in federal criminal matters. You need a seasoned, well-respected federal criminal defense attorney who understands the nature of the charges against you and will aggressively fight for your rights and for the best outcome in your case. Whether you are facing federal charges for a white-collar crime, drug trafficking, a sex crime, fraud, a violent crime, or another federal criminal offense, you need a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling these types of charges at the federal level.
How Long Does a Federal Appeal Take?
If you have been convicted of a federal criminal offense and intend to appeal, patience is crucial. Federal appeals usually take a significant time to process—between a few months, and as long as two years, with a “normal” time of more than a year. Your attorney will want to file your Notice of Appeal as quickly as possible (within 10 days of sentencing, usually) to get the process started.
Once the courts have been notified of your plan to appeal, the actual appeal must be filed within 30 days. The prosecution then has 30 days to submit a written response to the appeal. The case is then placed on the court calendar for the judges to review the written briefs and/or hear oral arguments. When the judges have read the briefs, they will then consider the evidence and render a decision.
Get the Help You Need
You want a team of experienced, passionate federal crimes lawyer that are ready to fight for you. Contact the Ciccarelli legal team today at (610) 692-8700. We serve federal criminal clients throughout Pennsylvania and are convenient to our clients with office locations in Philadelphia, West Chester, Lancaster, Springfield, Malvern, Plymouth Meeting, Lancaster, and Radnor and also available for phone and video meetings. You can have our lawyers provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case when you call (610) 692-8700 or complete an online contact form to schedule a free, confidential consultation.