Simply put, federal criminal cases are more complex and intense than even similar sounding cases that are brought in state court. The federal government has a lighter docket and more resources to pour into a case. The consequences, more often than not, are much more severe than those faced in comparable state court criminal cases.
Federal grand jury subpoenas and investigations can upend one’s life, even years before any charges are brought. Many people who would get out on bond in a similar sounding state court criminal case wind up detained in jail while waiting on a trial in federal court under the harsh doctrines about flight risk and danger to the community under the federal Bail Reform Act. While the court docket to get a speedy trial moves faster in most cases in federal court, federal jury selection in trial is much more difficult since, unlike state court, the judge plays the dominant role in picking the jury.
During trial in federal court, individuals often find that the sweeping scope of their adult life is effectively on trial due to the deep and powerful resources the federal government has to help present its case and put into evidence allegations of “prior bad acts” that do not directly relate to the actual charges that have been brought. Federal law enforcement agents are often very skilled in delivering testimony, making cross examination by defense attorneys much more difficult.
Plea bargains in federal court generally offer only the hope, instead of a guarantee, of a benefit in sentencing and often expose the defendant to the maximum punishment the charges could bring. Federal plea agreements also require that the defendant waive most of their rights to appeal their conviction or sentence.
There are many federal sentencing enhancements, especially in federal gun, drug trafficking, and internet pornography crimes. Some of these carry mandatory minimum sentences requiring prison time despite the fact that certain cases may offer compelling arguments that the defendant should be put on probation. The federal sentencing guidelines, while only advisory, carry significant weight in sentencing hearings and often contain enhancements based on allegations that were not alleged anywhere in the indictment or other charging documents. In situations where the defendant won a trial on some but not all of the charges, the federal sentencing guideline’s doctrine of “relevant conduct” also allows the federal prosecutors to seek an enhanced sentence based on alleged conduct that the jury found that the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, i.e., acquitted charges, during trial. Finally, proper preservation of sentencing issues for appeal can be very challenging due to the fast pace of the arguments and pointed questioning by the judge that is a hallmark of federal sentencing hearings.
The following is just a sampling of federal criminal cases our Raleigh, North Carolina based law practice (covering the Eastern District of North Carolina and other federal districts) handles: