Service & Results.

nyc criminal lawyers over 30 years of experienceWe Know How To Win Cases

Spodek Law Group handles tough cases
nationwide, that demand excellence.

Get Free Consultation

Faced 5+ Years in Prison

People Vs Joseph Amico

Covered by NYDaily News. Las Vegas man accused of threatening a prominent attorney and making vile remarks.

Faced 10+ Years in Prison

People Vs. Anna Sorokin

Covered by New York Times, and other outlets. Fake heiress accused of conning the city’s wealthy, and has an HBO special being made about her.

Faced 3+ Years in Prison

People Vs. Genevieve Sabourin

Accused of stalking Alec Baldwin. The case garnered nationwide attention, with USAToday, NYPost, and other media outlets following it closely.

Faced Potential Charges

Ghislaine Maxwell Juror

Juror who prompted calls for new Ghislaine Maxwell trial turns to lawyer who defended Anna Sorokin.

Why Choose Us

Clients can use our portal to track the status of their case, stay in touch with us, upload documents, and more.

Regardless of the type of situation you're facing, our attorneys are here to help you get quality representation.

We can setup consultations in person, over Zoom, or over the phone to help you. Bottom line, we're here to help you win your case.

Law in the Media

View All

Meet Todd Spodek


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.

Todd Spodek is a second generation attorney with immense experience. He has many years of experience handling 100’s of tough and hard to win trials. He’s been featured on major news outlets, such as New York Post, Newsweek, Fox 5 New York, South China Morning Post, Insider.com, and many others.

In 2022, Netflix released a series about one of Todd’s clients: Anna Delvey/Anna Sorokin.

Why Clients Choose Spodek Law Group

The reason is simple: clients want white glove service, and lawyers who can win. Every single client who works with the Spodek Law Group is aware that the attorney they hire could drastically change the outcome of their case. Hiring the Spodek Law Group means you’re taking your future seriously. Our lawyers handle cases nationwide, ranging from NYC to LA. Our philosophy is fair and simple: our nyc criminal lawyers only take on clients who we know will benefit from our services.

We’re selective about the clients we work with, and only take on cases we know align with our experience – and where we can make a difference. This is different from other law firms who are not invested in your success nor care about your outcome.

If you have a legal issue, call us for a consultation.
We are available 24/7, to help you with any – and all, challenges you face.

What is a federal criminal complaint?

By Spodek Law Group | July 27, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 12, 2023)

Last Updated on: 12th October 2023, 10:02 pm

What is a Federal Criminal Complaint?

A federal criminal complaint is a document that starts the criminal process in federal court. It’s basically the government’s way of saying “we think this person did something illegal under federal law and we want to prosecute them for it.”

The complaint is usually pretty simple. It identifies the defendant (the person being accused), describes what laws they allegedly broke, and explains a little bit about why the government thinks they broke those laws. It’s not meant to lay out every detail of the case – just enough to show there’s probable cause the defendant committed a federal crime.

After the complaint is filed, the next steps are:

  • The defendant is arrested and brought before a judge for their initial appearance.
  • A preliminary hearing is held where the judge decides if there’s enough evidence to move forward.
  • If so, the grand jury reviews the case and decides whether to issue an indictment with the official charges.
  • Once indicted, the defendant is arraigned and enters a plea.
  • Then the case either goes to trial, gets dismissed somehow, or the defendant pleads guilty.

So the complaint kicks off the whole federal criminal process. But it’s just the starting point – there’s a lot more that happens before someone is ultimately found guilty or not guilty.

Who Can File a Federal Criminal Complaint?

Federal criminal complaints are almost always filed by federal prosecutors like Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs). Sometimes federal agents like the FBI will submit a complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review and approval. But generally only federal prosecutors have the authority to actually file criminal charges and start the case.

Private citizens can technically submit their own federal criminal complaint if they want to report a crime. But it probably won’t go anywhere unless federal prosecutors decide to adopt the case and pursue it. The government has sole discretion over what federal charges to file in court.

What Kinds of Crimes Lead to a Federal Complaint?

Since we’re talking about the federal system, the complaint has to allege a violation of federal law – not state law or local ordinances. Some examples of federal crimes include:

  • Drug crimes like trafficking or distribution
  • Child pornography, enticement, and trafficking
  • Financial and corporate crimes like wire fraud, tax evasion, etc.
  • Civil rights violations
  • Federal firearms charges
  • Cybercrimes and computer hacking
  • Terrorism
  • Public corruption like bribery of federal officials

As you can see, federal law covers a wide range of offenses. The general rule is that the crime has to involve a federal interest, like taxes, federal agencies, interstate commerce, etc. Crimes that only violate state laws are handled in state courts.

What Happens at the Initial Appearance After a Complaint?

Once the complaint is filed, federal agents will arrest the defendant and bring them before a judge for the initial appearance. This usually happens within 24-48 hours. The initial appearance accomplishes a few things:

  • The judge makes sure the defendant understands their rights.
  • The defendant is officially notified of the charges against them.
  • The judge decides whether the defendant will be released on bail and under what conditions.
  • If the defendant needs an attorney but can’t afford one, the court will appoint a federal public defender.

This is the defendant’s first chance to fight the charges and argue for pretrial release. But the standard at this stage is pretty low – the judge just needs to find probable cause based on the complaint. So it’s unlikely the case will get dismissed right off the bat.

What Happens at the Preliminary Hearing?

Within 14 days after the initial appearance, the judge will hold a preliminary hearing. This is a more in-depth look at the evidence to decide whether the case should proceed or get tossed out. It works like this:

  1. The prosecution presents evidence and witness testimony to show there’s probable cause of a federal crime.
  2. The defense can cross-examine the witnesses and argue there’s no probable cause.
  3. The judge decides whether to move the case forward or dismiss it.

This is one of the first real opportunities for the defense to attack the charges and put holes in the government’s case. But again, the standard is still just probable cause – much lower than proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

What is the Purpose of a Grand Jury Indictment?

If the case survives the preliminary hearing, the next step is for the grand jury to return an indictment. What does this mean?

A federal grand jury is a group of citizens that reviews evidence to decide whether criminal charges are justified. Prosecutors present witnesses and documents to show there’s probable cause the defendant committed the crimes. This all happens in secret.

If the grand jury agrees there’s probable cause, they will issue an indictment – kind of like filing the official charges. The indictment lays out the specific federal laws the defendant allegedly broke. This moves the case closer to trial.

The purpose of the grand jury is to act as a check on the prosecution. Regular citizens get to independently look at the case instead of just trusting the government’s judgment. It helps ensure people aren’t being charged for no good reason.

What Happens at the Arraignment and Plea Hearing?

After the grand jury returns the indictment, the defendant appears in court again for arraignment and a plea hearing. A couple things happen here:

  • The defendant is formally notified of the charges in the indictment.
  • The judge makes sure the defendant understands their rights.
  • The defendant enters a plea – usually guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
  • If they plead not guilty, the court will schedule trial dates.

Arraignment is mainly about officially informing the defendant about the charges and getting their plea on record. If they plead guilty or no contest, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing. If they plead not guilty, the next stop is federal trial.

How Does the Trial Process Work in Federal Court?

If the defendant pleads not guilty at arraignment, the case heads to trial. This is how the federal trial process usually works:

  1. Jury selection – the lawyers question and screen potential jurors.
  2. Opening statements – each side outlines the case and evidence.
  3. Witness testimony and cross-examination.
  4. Closing arguments – summarizing the key points for the jury.
  5. Jury deliberation – the jury discusses the case and votes on a verdict.
  6. Verdict – the jury returns a verdict of guilty or not guilty.

The prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the federal offenses charged. If the jury has any reasonable doubts, they must return a verdict of not guilty. But if the prosecution meets their burden, the defendant will be convicted.

One interesting thing about federal court is there’s no parole – the sentence is the sentence, minus a small reduction for good behavior in prison. So the stakes are high if the case goes to trial versus pleading guilty and cooperating.

What are the Typical Penalties if Convicted of a Federal Crime?

The penalties really depend on the specific charges. Federal sentencing guidelines provide a framework based on the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. Some general ranges include:

  • Misdemeanors – 0-1 year in prison
  • Low-level felonies – 1-5 years in prison
  • Serious felonies – 10-20 years in prison
  • Major felonies or federal crimes of terrorism – Up to life in prison

Federal white-collar crimes like fraud often result in a mix of prison time and large fines. Drug trafficking or child pornography convictions can lead to decades in federal prison under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. On the harsher end, crimes like murder, kidnapping, or terrorism may result in life sentences.

Appealing a federal conviction or sentence is very difficult. The trial court record has to show clear procedural errors or abuse of discretion. Just disagreeing with the outcome isn’t enough. So if you’re charged federally, the best time to fight is before conviction, not after.

What Should You Do if You’re the Target of a Federal Investigation?

Here are some tips if federal agents start asking questions or you find out you’re under investigation:

  • Hire an experienced federal defense lawyer immediately. Cases move quickly once charges are filed.
  • Don’t talk to investigators without your lawyer present – ever.
  • Follow your lawyer’s advice about whether to testify to the grand jury.
  • Consider alternatives like negotiating a plea deal or cooperating as a witness.
  • Make sure your lawyer understands the federal sentencing guidelines.
  • Be proactive and start building your defense strategy right away.

The earlier you engage a lawyer, the better. Waiting until after you’re indicted really limits your options. Federal cases almost never get dismissed on procedural grounds. So your best chance is fighting the charges head-on before they’re even filed.

The bottom line is you have rights when dealing with federal investigators. But you have to assert those rights. Don’t try going it alone. Hire experienced counsel and follow their lead.


That covers the basics of how federal criminal complaints work and lead to prosecution. The key takeaways are:

  • A complaint kicks off the process but contains limited information.
  • The preliminary hearing and grand jury indictment follow next.
  • The defendant enters a plea at arraignment.
  • Federal trials have high conviction rates.
  • Penalties are usually severe, especially for major felonies.
  • Hiring counsel immediately is critical.

Fighting federal charges is tough. But understanding how the process works goes a long way in mounting an effective defense. Don’t wait to act if you find yourself on the federal government’s radar.

[1] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED311449.pdf [2] https://www.csusm.edu/psychology/currentstudents/research-methods-in-human-development.pdf [3] https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/204024.pdf [4] https://resources.finalsite.net/images/v1624888215/skschoolsorg/quvpvqh8qlp3bzo0tkou/English11WritingwithPower_Part2.pdf [5] https://www.coursehero.com/file/25336384/119-1110-Witingdocx/ [6] https://www.askamanager.org/2015/11/ask-the-readers-what-are-you-really-good-at.html

Free Consultation


I was searching for a law firm with some power to help me deal with a warrant in New York . After 6 days I decided to go with Spodek Law Group. It helped that This law firm is well respected by not only the top law firms in New York , but the DA , Judge as well. I...

~Fonder Brandon

5 Stars
It was my good fortune to retain Spodek Law Group for representation for my legal needs. From the beginning, communication was prompt and thorough. Todd, Kenneth and Alex were the first people I worked with and they all made me, and my company Qumana skincare feel comfortable and confident that the team was going to work hard for me. Everything...

~A G

5 Stars
After meeting with several law firms, I chose the Spodek Law Group not only for their professionalism and experience, but for the personal attention given to me right from the initial consultation. It is important to recognize how crucial having the right legal team is when faced with potentially life altering events that impact families and the lives of loved...

~George Cherubini

Spodek Law Group

White Glove Service

We Provide Superior Service, Excellent Results, At A Level Superior To Other Criminal Defense Law Firms. Regardless Of Where Your Case Is, Nationwide, We Can Help You.
View More

Request Free Consultation

Please fill out the form below to receive a free consultation, we will respond to
your inquiry within 24-hours guaranteed.


85 Broad St 30th Floor, New York, NY 10004


get directions

Los Angeles

611 S Catalina St Suite 222, Los Angeles, CA 90005


get directions


35-37 36th St, 2nd Floor Astoria, NY 11106


get directions


195 Montague St., 14th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201


get directions
Call Now!