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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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I’ve Been Charged with a Federal Crime – What Happens Now?

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 21, 2023)

Last Updated on: 21st October 2023, 09:07 am


I’ve Been Charged with a Federal Crime – What Happens Now?

Getting charged with a federal crime can be an incredibly stressful and confusing time. As someone whose just been charged, you probably have a ton of questions about what happens next and what your options are. This article will walk you through the key steps in the federal criminal justice process and provide info on the best ways to navigate it.

The Charging Decision

For you to be charged with a federal crime, a federal prosecutor had to decide there was enough evidence against you to warrant prosecution. They likely presented the evidence to a federal grand jury, who agreed charges were appropriate by issuing an indictment. So now the U.S. Attorney’s Office is officially pursuing criminal charges against you.

The specific charges filed will determine how severe the potential penalties are if your convicted. Some federal crimes, like drug trafficking or firearms offenses, can carry mandatory minimum sentences of 5, 10 years or more in prison. Others may just involve probation or a few months behind bars. So the charges themselves make a huge difference in how much time your facing.

The Arraignment

After charges are filed, the next step is the arraignment. That’s when you’ll be formally advised of the charges against you and asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. The judge will also address the issue of bail at this hearing.

Many factors will go into whether your released on bail, including:

  • The seriousness of the charges
  • Your criminal history
  • Your ties to the community
  • Whether your considered a flight risk

If bail is granted, the judge will determine the amount and any conditions, like surrendering your passport or submitting to drug testing. If bail is denied, you’ll be detained pending trial.

Your Criminal Defense Attorney

Having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer in your corner is crucial for navigating the system and fighting the charges. A good attorney will thoroughly analyze the prosecution’s evidence and identify any constitutional or procedural issues. For instance, they may file a motion to suppress evidence that was obtained illegally.

According to one criminal defense lawyer, “An aggressive defense often leads to charges getting reduced or dismissed pre-trial.” Your lawyer will also negotiate any plea deals offered and defend you vigorously if the case goes to trial.

Pretrial Motions and Discovery

During the pretrial phase, your lawyer will file motions asking the court to do things like compel the prosecution to hand over evidence or dismiss the charges entirely. This can be a long process of back-and-forth legal filings.

You’ll also be entitled to obtain all the evidence prosecutors have gathered against you through the discovery process. This allows your attorney to fully assess the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case.

Plea Bargaining

Many federal cases end with a plea bargain rather than trial. This involves negotiating to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for the prosecution dropping more serious ones. Typical bargains include:

  • Pleading to one charge instead of multiple charges
  • Pleading to a less serious charge with lower penalties
  • Agreeing to a sentencing recommendation from the prosecutor

Plea deals often involve cooperating with prosecutors against other defendants. Your lawyer will advise if this option makes sense based on the charges and evidence.

Going to Trial

If no plea agreement is reached, your case will head to trial. Federal criminal trials happen before a judge and jury and follow strict procedural rules. Key phases of a federal trial include:

  • Jury selection – Attorneys question and select jurors
  • Opening statements – Lawyers outline the case they’ll present
  • Witness testimony and cross-examination – Questioning of prosecution and defense witnesses
  • Closing arguments – Final statements from attorneys before jury deliberates

If your found guilty at trial, your attorney may file post-trial motions challenging issues like jury selection procedures or sufficiency of the evidence. If those fail, you’ll proceed to sentencing.

The Sentencing Hearing

If your convicted by guilty plea or trial, the judge will impose a sentence after considering factors like:

  • Federal sentencing guidelines and statutory minimums
  • Nature and seriousness of the offense
  • Your criminal history
  • Need to promote respect for the law and provide punishment

For many federal offenses, the judge has discretion to sentence you to probation, home confinement, prison, fines, or a combination. Mandatory minimums limit flexibility for some crimes.

Your lawyer will present mitigating evidence and argue for the lowest sentence possible under the circumstances. They can also object to guideline calculations by the probation department.

Appealing a Conviction or Sentence

If your convicted and sentenced, you can appeal to a higher federal court. On appeal, the court will examine the trial record and arguments from both sides about any legal errors that may have affected the outcome.

Common appeal grounds include:

  • Insufficient evidence to support a conviction
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Incorrect rulings by the judge on motions or objections
  • Excessive or unreasonable sentence

If the appellate court finds harmful errors did occur, they can do things like order a new trial, reduce the conviction to a lesser offense, or change the sentence. However, appeals are not easy to win.


The federal criminal justice system involves many complex laws and procedures. Having an experienced attorney to advise you at every stage is absolutely vital. While the charges against you are certainly serious, an aggressive defense focused on reasonable doubt, procedural mistakes, or plea bargaining can many times result in charges being lowered or dismissed. Don’t hesitate to explore all your options.



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