Any crime which violates a United States federal law may be considered a federal crime.
Federal crimes can be investigated by a variety of federal agencies such as:
- The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation;
- The IRS (Internal Revenue Service);
- The ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), and
- The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency).
Federal investigations typically take months prior to formal charges being filed. Once federal charges are actually filed, it can be difficult for even the most experienced attorney to “catch up” to the months or years of federal investigation. Because of this, those who are contacted by federal investigators should take immediate action by contacting a Los Angeles federal crimes attorney.
Even if it is not entirely clear whether you are being contacted as a suspect or a witness, don’t wait, hoping it is the latter. In many cases, early intervention by an experienced federal defense attorney can actually prevent an indictment. Because federal resources for such investigations can be virtually unlimited, having an skilled advocate on the case is crucial to your future.
Types of Crimes a Federal Crimes Attorney Can Handle
There are any number of federal crimes which we defend against. They include:
Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes
The vast majority of criminal prosecutions are for violations of state laws, and are prosecuted in a state court. Crimes such as rape, burglary, robbery, theft, arson and murder are examples of criminal violations of state laws. There are federal criminal laws, passed by Congress which are, in theory, tied to a federal or national issue (federal tax fraud, any crime committed on federal property or interstate contraband trafficking, as examples). Some crimes can be prosecuted under federal or state law—or both. Some instances in which the federal government has jurisdiction over a criminal act include:
- Criminal acts in which a defendant physically crosses state lines, when the conduct crosses state lines such as in illegal Internet crimes;
- Any criminal act occurring on federal land or involving federal officers;
- Violations of immigration such as international human trafficking, and
- Customs violations such as importing child pornography.
The President of the United States appoints federal judges for life, while state judges are elected. States crimes are investigated by local law enforcement and prosecuted by state district attorneys. Federal crimes are prosecuted by Assistant U.S. attorneys. Federal court cases generally take much longer to resolve than state cases.
While relatively rare, a crime can be prosecuted in both federal and state court with no violation of double jeopardy. As an example, a California state jury acquitted four LAPD officers of the Rodney King beating in 1992, then a federal court later convicted two of those officers. Federal penalties tend to be much more severe than state penalties, particularly for drug crimes.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Because of the potentially harsh penalties associated with a conviction for a federal crime, it is particularly important that you have a Los Angeles federal defense attorney who has a comprehensive knowledge of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Familiarity with the federal court system as well as an understanding of what can be asked for on behalf of his or her client is crucial to a more positive outcome.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines, found under 18 U.S. Code §3553, are intended to provide federal judges with consistent sentencing ranges, based on how serious the crime was as well as the individual offender’s criminal history and characteristics. Any federal judge who chooses to deviate from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines must be able to explain that choice.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines include 43 levels of offenses, and six criminal history categories based on the extent any criminal history of the offender as well as how recent that criminal history is. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines “table” will show a point where that offense level and criminal history intersect, and this will determine the range of penalties.
As an example, the highest level of criminal offense is assigned the highest number, therefore, first-degree, premeditated murder would have a base offense level of 43. This base level number will then have specific offense characteristics and adjustments subtracted from it, to reach a final offense level. Each offense carries a number of specific offense characteristics which can raise or lower the offense level, plus there are adjustments related to the offender’s role in the offense and victim-related adjustments which will increase or decrease the offense level.
The final step in arriving at an offense level under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is the offender’s acceptance of responsibility. A judge may decrease the offense by two levels, if the offender truthfully admitted his or her role in the crime, pled guilty, or made restitution prior to a guilty verdict. After determining the criminal offense level, the second element is the offender’s criminal record which is assigned to one of six criminal history categories (1 for those with the least serious criminal record or a first-time offender, all the way to 6 for those with a significant criminal history).
As you can see, determining a federal sentence can be extremely complex, and best faced with an experienced Los Angeles federal crimes attorney who can work from the beginning to potentially minimize that sentence, have the charges dismissed entirely, or litigate a “not guilty” verdict.
Adjustments to Federal Sentencing Guidelines
If there are any aggravating—or mitigating—circumstances which might not have been taken into consideration by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a federal judge is allowed to impose a sentence which is above or below the guideline range. The reasons for such a departure, however, must be stated by the judge, in writing, and can be appealed by the offender (for an upward departure) or by the government (for a downward departure).
An offender who has provided assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another offender, may qualify for a “substantial assistance” downward departure from the sentence determined under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The sentencing classification of offenses is found under 18 U.S. Code §3559.
Other Issues Associated with a Federal Crime
Offenders charged with a federal crime have the right to an impartial jury, and this is an issue you will want to discuss with your attorney. As your attorney knows, a jury can often make or break a case. Jurors can have a wide array of life experiences, however, in some instances a particular group could over or under-represented in a jury pool, offering a potential challenge. Another issue to discuss with your lawyer is your criminal detention hearing.
If you have been charged with a drug crime carrying a potential sentence of years, any offense which has a potential sentence of life in prison or death, any offense which involved a violent crime, or if the U.S. state attorney feels there is a flight risk, detention may be requested. A detention request must be made at your initial appearance, then a hearing will be held 3-5 days later. There are four factors a federal judge will look at when determining whether you will be released while your case is pending, including:
- The evidence against you;
- The nature and circumstances of the alleged offense;
- Your criminal history, character, employment, financial resources, physical and mental condition, length of time you have resided in the community, family ties, history of drug or alcohol abuse and record of appearance at court proceedings, and
- The potential for danger to any person or the community if you were released.
Call a Los Angeles Federal Crimes Attorney Today
If you have been charged with a federal crime, or you suspect you may be charged with a federal crime, time is of the essence. Federal criminal charges can be the most serious in the United States, and you need a Los Angeles federal crimes attorney who is capable of dealing with such aggressive opponents. Our attorneys will ensure all constitutional requirements were fully met if there was a search of your property.
In the case of white-collar federal crimes, we may be able to obtain a pre-indictment settlement which allows you to pay restitution and potentially avoid incarceration. Experience is key in federal criminal cases as well as an attorney who understands your future is at stake. With highly individualized attention to your case, you can count on aggressive legal representation and tireless attention to your rights and your freedom.