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What You Need to Know About Federal Crimes

Posted by Seth Chazin | Sep 30, 2019 | 0 Comments

The answer to the question "what is a federal crime?" is both complex and simple at the same time. The simple answer is that they are crimes that violate federal laws or that Congress has declared should be under federal court jurisdiction. The investigation and court proceedings are handled by federal law enforcement and federal judges. However, what amounts to a federal crime is actually a bit more complicated. There is a long list of crimes that can land someone in court for a federal offense.

What Are Some Federal Crimes?

The list of crimes that fall under this category is rather extensive. You can find a more complete list on Clarifacts, but a few of the more commonly known ones are:

  • Sex crime charges
  • Child abuse/pornography
  • Murder under specific circumstances
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Possession, distribution and importation of narcotics
  • Robbery, especially bank robbery
  • Stalking
  • Tampering with a witness
  • Vandalism

All of these crimes can get you into serious trouble with federal law enforcement. When someone is charged with something on this list, it is likely they will want to enlist the help of a highly experienced and qualified federal criminal defense attorney. In some cases, the defendant may not be guilty. For example, a 2010 report by Violence Against Women concluded that between 2% and 10% of all allegations of sexual assault were false. 

How are Federal Crimes Processed?

Now that we've answered the question "what is a federal crime?", it's time to move on to the steps in the processing of these crimes. There is generally a set order that the process moves in, allowing evidence to be gathered and presented. Charging someone with a federal crime isn't something to be taken lightly and the proceedings can take a long time to complete.

At the beginning, once a crime has been discovered or reported, an investigation is initiated. This is when evidence is gathered and suspects are apprehended. Once a suspect is apprehended and there is sufficient evidence to charge them, they are then either indicted by a federal grand jury, or a criminal complaint is filed in court by the prosecutor. This leads to an initial court appearance and hearing, called an arraignment, that begins the court process.

Contrary to what many people think, the actual trial doesn't start right away. There are many steps after the initial hearing and before the start of the trial. These are:

  • Discovery: The period in which the prosecutor gathers the evidence against the defendant and is then obligated to share it with the defendant and his attorney.
  • Plea Bargaining: The defendant's lawyer and the lawyer for the government will often meet to discuss a possible settlement of the case.  The can often an opportunity for a defendant to plead guilty in order to avoid a trial and potentially reduce their sentence.
  • Preliminary Hearing: These are not always a requirement in federal court, but it is used when the prosecutor is required to show that there is enough evidence available to charge the defendant
  • Pre-Trial Motions: This is the defendant's and the prosecutor's opportunity to request that the court makes certain rulings or decisions before the trial begins, such as a motion to dismiss a charge.

Once all of these steps take place, the trial can begin. The trial will be followed by post-trial motions, sentencing, and sometimes an appeal.

What Do Federal Crime Attorneys Do?

A Federal criminal attorney helps to defend people who are being charged with a federal crime. It can be a challenging job that requires the ability to gather evidence and present it in an effective manner. The attorney plays a crucial role in the U.S. criminal justice system by ensuring that all defendants are guaranteed the full right to effective assistance of counsel and a fair trial.

The attorney generally helps throughout the entire process, from the moment an investigation is initiated to when someone is charged and then all the way through to a potential appeal, if the person is convicted. Sometimes a lawyer can work with a client for several years if multiple appeals take place.

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson