Federal v. State Criminal Cases

Federal criminal investigations and prosecutions are handled much differently that state court criminal cases.  Federal cases are typically investigated by federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), the Office of Inspector General (OIG), and others.  The investigations tend to be much more thorough than their state counterparts.  Federal prosecutors almost always have a lighter caseload than state court prosecutors, will allows them to spend more time prosecuting the case.

In white collar federal criminal investigations the suspect is often aware of the investigation before criminal charges are brought.  In this circumstance, it is wise for the suspect to seek experienced federal defense counsel immediately.  Defense counsel may be able to provide information to the federal prosecutor that will avoid charges being filed.  Occasionally, federal prosecutors will agree to a Deferred Filing Agreement (DFA).  Experienced defense counsel can also sometimes provide information that causes federal prosecutors to file lesser charges than those originally sought.  If charges are filed, defense counsel may be able to persuade the federal prosecutor to allow the defendant to turn himself in, rather than being arrested without notice.  Defense counsel may also be able to convince the prosecutor to agree to the client’s release from custody while the case is pending, or to agree to release on more reasonable terms than usual.  Once charges are filed, defense counsel can occasionally negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), which is essentially a continuance with a dismissal with negotiable terms.

While State court cases are almost always charged by a criminal Complaint, for almost all federal criminal cases, a grand jury is convened and the federal criminal case begins with the filing of an Indictment.

Federal cases also carry more severe penalties, and sometimes have mandatory minimum sentences.  In certain circumstances the mandatory minimum sentence can be avoided.  The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are complex.  Federal judges can sentence below or above the guideline range and they are rarely bound by the plea agreement.  For this reason, it is extremely important that when a plea bargain is entered into by the parties, defense counsel and the client need to be thoroughly prepared for sentencing.  A detailed defense sentencing brief is essential.

Types of cases that are prosecuted federally include:

  • Federal Drug Conspiracy
  • Health Care Fraud
  • Money Laundering
  • Wire Fraud
  • Tax Fraud
  • Cryptocurrency Fraud (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Cardano, etc.)
  • Internet Fraud
  • Federal Firearms Charges
  • Obstruction of Justice Charges
  • Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act Charges (RICO)