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Feb 2, 2019

Should You Plead Or Go To Trial On Criminal Charges In Federal Court?

Going To Trial And/Or Pleading Guilty In Federal Court

When you get charged with a federal crime, automatically you are going to be extremely confused about what you should do next. One of the main things that will be running through your mind is whether or not you should go to trial. It is important that you understand both sides, and it is important that you find an attorney who will lead you in the right direction.

When it comes to pleading guilty of a federal crime, there are a few ways you can do this. You can plead contested or uncontested. Contested means you are not admitting to the crime, but you are going to be charged and sentenced as if you did do the crime. Uncontested means you are not fighting the charges but just looking for the best deal possible. When it comes to federal charges, many people plead guilty to get their time down, especially since more federal prison sentences start near the 12-year mark. Pleading guilty will usually cause you to only do about 25% of your time. This is sometimes even lower if there is a victim who does not want to sit through a trial for weeks.

When you decide to go to trial, you are putting everything on the line. If you are found guilty, you will have to serve the maximum penalty in prison, and there is usually no way for you to argue this when it comes to sentencing day. One of the good things about going to trial is that you are going to be able to tell your side of the story. This can come in the form of witnesses, your own testimony, and physical evidence. Furthermore, you may also get to have the media get involved with daily reporting of the trial. This will allow you to make your plead known to the entire community. Another great thing about going to trial is that you may win. If you do win, all of the charges will be dropped immediately. You can go on with your daily life, and you do not have every worry about going back to court on those specific charges. However, you just need to remember that there is a chance you will lose.

A good federal attorney will give you the perfect advice. After looking at the charges the decision will be made by the attorney. If you agree with the attorney’s decision, he/she will most likely represent you. This attorney will give you a detailed explanation as to why you should or should not go to trial. This will solely be based on a percentage perspective. The attorney will show you the percentage risk of going to trial as opposed to the percentage risk of pleading guilty. After observing this information, you may be more comfortable with the attorney. The great thing about going through this process is that you can tell whether the attorney is serious or just wants to make a quick thousand dollars.

Any type of federal charges are serious. You cannot just decide to go to trial or to plead guilty. This decision in itself is going to take some time because this decision can push your life forward or hold your life back. However, when the information is explained to you by a lawyer, it will most likely make more sense and even calm you down. The great thing about having a good attorney is that the attorney will study similar cases to yours. After presenting this to the court, the judge and the prosecutor will have to obey certain guidelines, especially when it comes to the sentencing factor. This will help the attorney put together a defense around those guidelines.

What Issues Do People Raise In A Federal Criminal Appeal?

A conviction in federal court doesn’t signal the end of your defense to a prosecution. However, the defense transitions from a trial to an appeal. At the appellate stage, the emphasis turns from the facts and evidence in dispute to whether the trial court correctly followed the law. As such, a Court of Appeals will not resolve factual questions. Instead, it considers only whether the trial judge failed to apply the correct legal standards to evidence, factual assertions and the conduct of the trial.

Below are some of the typical issues you might raise in a federal criminal appeal.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

The government must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, you tell the Court of Appeals why the government failed to meet its burden of proof. You might point to the lack of eyewitness testimony or the absence of any statements or documents tying you to the criminal activity.

Insufficiency of the evidence is a difficult road to reversal of a conviction. The Court of Appeals views the evidence most favorably to the government. If there are conflicts in testimony, the appellate judges will (for purposes of the appeal) answer them in the prosecution’s favor. So long as the prosecution’s evidence would be enough, if accepted by the jury, then you won’t earn a reversal for lack of evidence.

In some cases, the undisputed evidence shows you had a defense such as entrapment, that your conduct is protected by the U.S. Constitution, or that you acted out of necessity. Double jeopardy — you had already been tried for the crime or same conduct — may have barred the government from trying, punishing or otherwise prosecuting you. If you’re convicted of an ex post facto law, that means your conduct was not at the time a crime.

Mistakes in Admitting Evidence

The trial court may have refused to exclude certain evidence. One category involves evidence obtained in violation of your Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. For instance, a federal agent may have interrogated you without advising you of your right to remain silent and have a lawyer. Allegedly illegal contraband may have been seized from your home or person without a warrant. Often, appealing defendants have pleaded guilty to a crime based on the evidence they contend was obtained in violation of the Constitution but preserve their right to appeal the denial of motions to exclude the evidence.

Aside from Constitutional violations, you might argue that the trial judge erroneously allowed the jury to hear unfairly prejudicial statements, hearsay or opinions by witnesses not qualified to give them.

Jury Instructions

Defendants may raise the trial judge’s failure to correctly instruct the jury on the elements of the crime and burden of proof. These erroneous instructions may include placing on the defendant a burden that rests with the government and mistakingly identifying the specific or otherwise criminal intent required for the offense.

The judge’s failure to instruct may also present a reason to reverse a conviction. Judges must instruct the jury on defenses that are supported by evidence presented in the trial.

Punishments

Federal judges use the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines to determine the type and length of punishments. Within the guidelines lie a set of factors that, in general terms, include the seriousness of the crime, the impacts of the crime on the victim, the need for restitution to the victim, other purposes of criminal punishment and the defendant’s history. Your appeal might involve a claim that the trial judge departed from these Guidelines without a basis. Potentially, you’ll argue that you received an unfair sentence — especially if other defendants committed the same acts with the same impacts and received much lighter sentences. As a general rule, a sentence that falls within the Guidelines is presumed to be reasonable and affords no ground for reversal on appeal.

To bring these grounds for review, you should obtain the services of an experienced federal criminal appeals lawyer. Pursuing an appeal takes considerable care and skill in meeting deadlines to build a record to the proceedings, preparing a brief and attending an oral argument. An appellate lawyer can help you observe the deadlines and steps needed in your efforts to overturn a conviction.

Should You Plead Or Go To Trial On Criminal Charges In Federal Court?

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