Overview of the Federal Felony Criminal Justice system
Federal Criminal Arrest and Charging
Some defendants are arrested on probable cause and are initially charged by an information while others are charged pursuant to a Grand Jury indictment. If a defendant is charged by an indictment the United States Attorney can permit a summons to be issued for the defendant to appear in court on their own or a warrant can be issued for the defendant to be arrested and brought before the court.
If a defendant is arrested on probable cause and charged with a complaint he or she is entitled to a preliminary hearing within 10 days (if they are in custody) or within 20 days (if they are not in custody). A preliminary hearing is simply a hearing in which the judge makes a determination if probable cause exists that the defendant committed the crime charged.
Pretrial services Interview
After a defendant is arrested they will meet with a Pretrial Services Officer. The Pretrial Services Officer will generate a report concerning the defendant’s ties to the community, prior employment and prior criminal history. The Pretrial Services Officer will prepare a report that will be used at the initial appearance to help determine if detention is going to be requested.
Initial Appearance / Arraignment
In the Northern District of Oklahoma Initial Appearances occur at either 2pm or 3 pm on the 3rd floor of the Page Belcher Federal Courthouse located at 333 West 4th Street Tulsa, OK 74103. At the Initial Appearance the magistrate will inform the defendant of the following:
Whether an indictment or an information has been filed against the defendant and what the charges against the defendant are.
If an information has been filed the defendant will be informed of his right to a preliminary hearing.
If the defendant does not have an attorney the magistrate will either allow the defendant time to retain counsel or if the defendant qualifies and desires counsel will be appointed.
If the government is seeking detention the magistrate will inform a defendant of his right to a detention hearing.
If the government is not seeking detention the magistrate will set the conditions of release for the defendant.
If a detention hearing or a preliminary hearing will occur in the case it will typically be scheduled at the initial appearance.
At the conclusion of the Initial Appearance the magistrate will inform the defendant that there will be future court appearance and the defendant’s lawyer will let him or her know when those appearance will occur.
Discovery in Federal Criminal Cases
The discovery is the law enforcement reports and other documents relating to the charges brought against the defendant. Typically the discovery is given to the defense lawyer very quickly after the initial appearance. On many occasions the defense lawyer will have the discovery the day of the initial appearance or within a couple of days.
Speedy Trial Act
The Speedy Trial Act (18 U.S.C. Section 3161 et. seq.) provides for specific time limitations in which federal criminal cases are to be prosecuted and brought to trial. Unless specific requirements are met, federal charges must be tried within 70 days of the filing date of the information or indictment or the date of the appearance on the information or indictment, whichever date is last.
Federal Criminal Case Schedule
After the Initial Appearance the clerk will enter a scheduling order for the case. The scheduling order will establish dates for the filing of pretrial motions, the dates that the government must file a response to the pretrial motions, a date and time for the pretrial hearing and a trial date. If a defendant is going to enter a plea that is typically done at the pretrial hearing.
If evidence was seized from the defendant or if the defendant made statements that the government intends on introducing at trial, the defendant’s attorney has the opportunity to file a Motion to Suppress the evidence or statements if a sufficient legal basis exist for the filing of those motions. The defense lawyer also can file various other motions dealing with issues ranging from discovery to the indictment.
Federal trials are conducted in a very efficient manner. All of the exhibits are pre-marked and given to the Court before the trial begins.
A jury trial begins with jury selection. This is an important stage in which the judge or magistrate judge, attorneys, and the defendant select the group of twelve people who decide the case. A jury is chosen from a group of citizens randomly selected.
The Jury listens to both sides of a case and decides guilt or innocence. A trial jury consists of twelve persons. A number of alternates are chosen who serve if a regular juror must be excused before jury deliberations begin.
Jury questioning is typically conducted by the judge and not by the attorneys. Defense counsel or the prosecutor may ask the judge to dismiss a prospective juror if it appears that he or she cannot serve fairly. In addition, the prosecutor and the defense attorney may exercise a number of “peremptory” challenges. Peremptory challenges give the defense counsel and prosecutor the right to request that a juror be excused. Each side is allowed to strike a certain number of prospective jurors for any reason not related to race, religion or gender.
Once approved, the jurors and alternates are sworn in and seated in the jury box. The judge explains the trial procedure, principles of law, and each juror’s duties.
The Prosecutor, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA), presents the evidence on behalf of the government. The prosecutor begins the trial with an opening statement explaining how he or she will prove that the defendant committed the crime charged. The defense attorney may make an opening statement but is not required to do so. The burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty is on the prosecutor.
To prove the government’s case, the prosecutor introduces evidence against the defendant. Evidence consists of statements from witnesses who appear in court or by deposition and are sworn to tell the truth, the physical objects (exhibits) such as a document, a weapon, a map of the crime location, or a photograph. Recordings of conversations to be played.
The prosecutor questions each of the government’s witnesses under direct examination. The defense lawyer may then question the same witnesses under cross-examinations. Either side may object to the other side’s questions, answers, or exhibits. When an attorney makes an objection, the judge decides whether to allow the question, statement or exhibit. “Sustained” means the objection is valid. “Overruled” means it is invalid. In some instances, the judge will consult with attorneys outside the hearing of the jury at the side bar of the court.
The defendant and the defense attorney then decide whether to offer evidence in “defense.” The defendant has a right to consult with the defense attorney and help make decisions as to how he or she will conduct the trial. The defense does not have to produce any evidence, testify, or present any defense at all, because the defendant is presumed to be innocent.
A defendant has an absolute right to decide whether or not to testify on his or her own behalf. The jury will be told that the defendant’s decision not to testify cannot be held against them. A defendant’s decision whether or not to testify is often a critical one.
If the defense decides to present evidence in defense, the judge may allow the prosecutor to present additional evidence in rebuttal.
If something occurs which is prejudicial to the defense case, the defense attorney may move for a mistrial. If the judge grants the motion, the jury will be discharged. The prosecutor may then begin a new trial.
At the end of trial, the defense attorney and the prosecutor make closing statements called summations. The prosecutor sums up first and last.
The judge explains the law to the jury as it applies to the case. The jury is taken to a closed room to discuss the case in private and to reach a decision. The decision is called a verdict. While deliberating, the jury may send notes to the judge asking for testimony to be read back or for other help. It cannot hear new evidence.
The jury must weigh the evidence and determine whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jurors have a reasonable doubt about whether a defendant is guilty as charged, they must find the defendant not guilty. If satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt, the jury must find the defendant guilty. If the defendant is being tried for more than one crime, the jury will reach a separate verdict for each crime.
The decision of the jury must be unanimous. Occasionally, after much deliberation, a jury cannot agree on a verdict. In such a case, the judge may declare a mistrial. This is known as a “hung jury”. The prosecutor may then try the defendant again.
If the defendant is acquitted (found not guilty), the defendant will be released immediately if no other charges are pending or there is not a detainer by another agency such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A defendant cannot be tried for the same crime again unless there has been a mistrial.
If a defendant is found guilty, the case is adjourned so that the judge can determine the sentence. Generally, a defendant will be placed in jail to await sentencing.
Sentencing in Federal Ceiminal Cases
The Probation Department interviews the defendant and prepares a report to help the judge in determining the sentence. The judge relies heavily on this report in sentencing. The defense may seek to correct any errors in the report.
The defendant, the defendant’s supporters, the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the victim of your crime, if any, have a chance to speak at the sentencing. The defense attorney may prepare a memorandum suggesting how the judge should rule. People can write letters to the judge and can appear to testify at the sentence.
The judge weighs the seriousness of the crime, the defendant’s background, any prior criminal record, the sentencing guidelines, and the defendant’s family and community ties in deciding the sentence.
If the jury found the defendant guilty of more than one charge, the judge may impose concurrent sentences; these are sentences that run at the same time. The judge may also, on some rare occasions, impose consecutive sentences; these are sentences that run one after the other so the defendant will stay in prison longer.
If a defendant is sentenced to probation or supervised release, the Probation Department will supervise the defendant’s release and impose specific conditions. If a defendant violates any of these conditions or fail to follow the probation officer’s orders, the defendant will be arrested, and the judge may imprison or otherwise extend the defendant’s punishment.
If a defendant is out on bail and is sentenced to a period of imprisonment, the judge may permit the defendant to surrender voluntarily to an institution selected by the Bureau of Prisons in advance of his or her surrender date. Voluntary surrender is not a matter of right, but if the judge permits it, the defendant will have the opportunity to travel to an institution on his or her own rather than in the custody of the United States Marshal. The defendant must pay his or her own travel expenses for self surrender.
Being charged with a crime in Federal Court Is often better than the alternative
Many clients panic when they learn that their case has “gone federal’. While I would never say that being accused of a felony in federal court is a “good thing”; often times being charged federally is a better than being charged in Oklahoma state court.
Many Federal Sentences are More Reasonable than State Sentences
A clear example of this occurred a few years ago when I was representing a client charged in state court with trafficking in cocaine. This client was caught with approximately 80 grams of cocaine powder by officers from the Tulsa Police Department. The state prosecutor was offering him 15 years in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. In Oklahoma State court possessing over 28 grams of cocaine powder is considered trafficking and carries a minimum of 10 years in prison. I knew that I could probably get the prosecutor to agree to the minimum trafficking sentence of 10 years instead of the 15 years they were offering, but that would still mean my client would spend over 3 years in prison even if he made parole at the earliest opportunity.
Because I handle both state and federal cases I knew that if my client was facing charges in the Northern District of Oklahoma in Federal Court instead of being charged in Tulsa County State court that his guidelines range would be substantially less. I also knew that the state prosecutors would dismiss the case if my client was indicted in federal court. So after discussing the matter with my client, I spoke with an Assistant United States Attorney I knew and persuaded the AUSA to indict my client for possession with intent to distribute cocaine in Federal Court.
My client received 5 months in the Bureau of Prisons and 5 months home detention instead of a 10 year sentence in state court.
The judges are better in federal court
In my opinion the judges in federal court are simply better than the judges in state court. It is much more difficult to become a federal judge than to become a state court judge. A federal judge has to be nominated by the President of the United States and approved by the United States Senate. In Oklahoma State a judge can be appointed by the governor or even become a judge by running for office.
Federal judges are appointed for life and less influenced by public pressure. State court judges must run for re-election. There are a lot more state court judges than there are federal judges. There are well over 200 state court judges in Oklahoma and less than 20 federal court judges in Oklahoma. As a result the competition to become a federal judge is more difficult and the quality of judges is higher in federal court.
Having a good judge is important because if you have a legitimate issue regarding an unlawful search and seizure or any other legal issue that may benefit the defendant, the better your judge, the better your chances the judge will follow the law. Also because federal judges are appointed for life, they are less influenced by public pressure to rule one way or the other.
You are not required to buy your way out of jail
Send your questions to LawyerAdams@me.com.
I try to respond to all inquires as quickly as possible. If you need immeadiate assistance you can call my office (918) 582-1313 or my cell phone (918) 230-9513. If you are in need of emergency assistance feel free to call my cell phone anytime either day or night.
Tulsa Criminal Defense Lawyer: Kevin D. Adams
Disclaimer: Kevin D. Adams only provides legal advice after having entered into an attorney client relationship, which this website specifically does not create. Only after having entered into a representation agreement with Kevin D. Adams will an attorney-client relationship have been created. It is imperative that any action taken by you should be done on advice of legal counsel.* Because every case is different, the descriptions of outcomes and cases previously handled are not meant to be a guarantee of success.
Copyright ©2003 Kevin D. Adams