Arizona Federal Criminal Lawyers
Finding yourself facing federal criminal charges can be an incredibly stressful and frightening experience. The federal criminal justice system is complex, and the potential penalties for federal crimes are severe. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to have an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer on your side.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of federal criminal law in Arizona and how an attorney can help build the strongest possible defense for your case. We’ll look at key topics like:
- Common federal crimes charged in Arizona
- Criminal defense strategies
- Sentencing and penalties
- The appeals process
We’ll also highlight what to look for when hiring a federal criminal lawyer in Arizona.
Overview of Federal Criminal Law
The federal criminal justice system handles prosecutions for violations of federal statutes. Some common federal crimes charged in Arizona include:
- Drug crimes – Drug trafficking, distribution, manufacturing, etc.
- White collar crimes – Fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion
- Firearms offenses – Possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, firearms trafficking
- Immigration crimes – Illegal re-entry, alien smuggling
- Child pornography crimes
The federal system has its own set of criminal statutes, rules of evidence and procedure, sentencing guidelines, and prisons. Federal criminal cases are investigated by agencies like the FBI, DEA, ATF, or ICE and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
One major difference between the federal system and state systems is that the majority of federal cases end in plea bargains rather than trials. Over 90% of federal criminal defendants plead guilty. However, federal plea deals still require extensive negotiation by an experienced attorney.
Sentencing and Penalties
Sentencing for federal crimes follows complex federal sentencing guidelines. A major factor is your criminal history level, which assigns points based on any prior convictions.
Federal sentences tend to be longer than state sentences for comparable crimes. Some other key factors influencing federal sentences include:
- Mandatory minimums – Set by statute for certain crimes and require judges to impose that minimum prison term. Examples are 5 years for drug trafficking and 10 years for illegal firearm possession.
- Sentencing enhancements – Added penalties based on specific offense characteristics, such as possession of a certain weapon or trafficking a certain quantity of drugs.
- Concurrent vs. consecutive terms – For multiple counts, sentences can either run concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (back to back). This makes a huge difference in total sentence length.
- Fines – Large fines up to $250,000 per count are common, in addition to prison time.
- Supervised release – A period of probation will be added after prison time is served. Violating the terms can result in being sent back to prison.
Federal white collar crimes like fraud can result in very high restitution orders forcing you to repay losses from the crime. For drug trafficking, asset forfeiture may be imposed to seize property connected to the crime.
The Federal Appeals Process
If you are convicted of a federal crime, you have the right to appeal your conviction or sentence. There are four potential levels of appeal in the federal courts:
- Direct Appeal – Appeal first goes to the federal Circuit Court of Appeals covering the district where you were convicted. This reviews the trial record for procedural errors or incorrect application of the law.
- En Banc Review – The Circuit Court may grant a rehearing before all of its judges rather than just a panel. This is rarely granted.
- U.S. Supreme Court – The Supreme Court may agree to review a case but hears very few appeals. Only constitutional issues or serious questions of law are considered.
- Habeas Corpus – After appeals are exhausted, you can file a habeas corpus petition alleging your imprisonment is unlawful. This is limited to issues like ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.
The appeals process is complex and has strict deadlines. An experienced federal criminal appeals lawyer is essential to identify the best issues to raise and effectively present your arguments to give you the best chance of success.
Common Federal Crimes in Arizona
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the most common federal crimes charged in Arizona and potential defenses:
Federal law enforcement aggressively prosecutes drug crimes in Arizona. Common charges include:
- Drug trafficking and distribution
- Manufacturing controlled substances
- Drug importation and smuggling
- Drug conspiracy
Potential defenses – Being unaware drugs were in your possession, entrapment by federal agents, or having a legal prescription for the drugs.
Sentencing considerations – Mandatory minimum sentences based on drug type and quantity. For example, trafficking over 500g of cocaine carries a 5 year mandatory minimum. Also, sentence enhancements for factors like prior drug offenses, possession of a firearm, or if serious injury or death resulted.
Federal fraud charges are common in Arizona and include:
- Mail/wire fraud
- Bank fraud
- Healthcare fraud
- Government program fraud
- Securities fraud
- Tax fraud
Potential defenses – You made an honest mistake rather than intentionally defrauding. Someone else used your identity to commit fraud. For tax fraud, a good faith effort to comply with an overly complex tax code.
Sentencing considerations – Amount of loss and number of victims will enhance sentence. Tax fraud sentences depend partly on amount of tax owed. Must pay restitution to victims.
Some federal firearm possession crimes in Arizona include:
- Possession of a firearm by a prohibited person – felons, domestic violence misdemeanants, drug users
- Firearms trafficking
- Using a firearm during a drug trafficking or violent crime
Potential defenses – The firearm was not yours or you were unaware it was present. You thought your prior conviction status did not prohibit possessing a firearm.
Sentencing considerations – High base offense levels mean stiff sentences. Mandatory minimum 5 year sentence for using firearm during drug trafficking or violent crime. Armed career criminal enhancement for repeat offenses carries minimum 15 year sentence.
Federal agents prioritize immigration enforcement in border states like Arizona. Common charges include:
- Illegal re-entry after deportation
- Alien smuggling
- False statements on immigration documents
Potential defenses – You had valid legal status or were misinformed on immigration rules. For smuggling, you did not realize people entering the vehicle were undocumented immigrants.
Sentencing considerations – Illegal re-entry sentences depend on criminal history. Alien smuggling sentences increase if done for profit.