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How To Find a Criminal Defense Attorney for Federal Crimes

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Find a California Criminal Defense Attorney for Federal Offenses

The criminal justice system in the United States is divided into two levels: state and federal. The majority of people are familiar with how state felony prosecutions are treated by city or county governments. One can only hope that they will never face federal charges. The federal court system, with its formality and rigid (and sometimes harsh) sentencing rules, can be a very daunting place to be, from your first encounter with federal law enforcement officers (i.e., FBI, DEA, ICE, etc.) to your presence in front of a federal judge.

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Federal Crimes vs. State Crimes

The criminal justice system in the United States is split into two parts: state criminal law and federal criminal law. - state, including California, has its own set of rules, as does the federal government, which must be followed by all citizens of the state. The laws of both the state and the federal government apply to all. In fact, some offenses are categorized under both the California Penal Code and the United States Code, which means that a single criminal offense can be prosecuted in both courts. A Criminal Defense Attorney will be vital in this case.

What Exactly are Federal Offenses?

You would almost certainly be investigated by a federal agent, such as an FBI or DEA agent, and charged by federal prosecutors, known as "United States Attorneys," for most federal crimes. Furthermore, the case will be heard in a federal district court, which ensures that you will face much tougher punishments if you are convicted of a federal crime than if you were charged with a state crime. If your penalty requires a jail term, you will also be transferred to federal prison.

What are State Crimes?

A federal, county, or city peace officer or agent will most likely arrest you if you commit a state crime. You can also face charges in state courts, which are located in every county in California. If you are convicted of a felony, the sentence will be decided by state laws that may include time in county jail or state prison.

Sentencing and Punishment for Federal Charges

Although certain federal charges are similar to state charges, federal offenses are much more severe and are prosecuted by the federal government.

If a federal law enforcement agency (i.e., FBI, DEA, ICE, USPS, etc.) is investigating the crime and/or if the crime comes under federal charges jurisdiction. As well as whether the crime will come under the jurisdiction of federal courts (on or against federal property, related to interstate commerce, violating Federal Statutes or the Constitution, etc.).

The following are just a few of the more common federal charges:

Drug Offenses and Trafficking – 21 USC Sec. 841

It is illegal to knowingly and deliberately do the following under the United States Code 21 Section 841:

Manufacture, sell, dispense, or possess a controlled substance with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense it; or

Create, distribute, dispense, or possess a counterfeit drug with the intent to distribute or dispense it.

Marijuana, hard drugs (such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines), and prescription medications are all examples of controlled substances (like Vicodin or Oxycontin).

A counterfeit drug is one that has, without permission, the container or marking of a manufacturer, distributor, or dispenser's trademark, trade name, distinguishing mark, imprint, number, unit, or any resemblance thereof.

Making, selling, or producing drugs, as well as transporting drugs across state or foreign boundaries, are all common drug trafficking crimes in the United States.

Illegal Alien Smuggling or Border Crossing – 8 USC Sec. 1324

Congress passed a strict anti-human smuggling law (also known as "alien smuggling" or "immigrant smuggling") to tackle the issue of illegal immigration. This legislation, codified at Section 1324 of Title 8 of the United States Code, is directed at those who assist people in illegally crossing American borders and entering our harbors, as well as those who assist these aliens in remaining in the United States. All of the following actions (or attempts to commit these acts) are unlawful under federal law:

Smuggling of aliens is prohibited under Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(i), which makes it illegal to knowingly bring or attempt to bring an alien into the United States at a location other than an official point of entry, such as a port, airport, or land immigration checkpoint. This offense extends to both those who have entered the country lawfully and those who have entered illegally.

  • Under Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii), it is unlawful to move an alien inside the United States through any means with information or careless disregard of the alien's illegal immigration status.

  • Subsection 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) makes it unlawful for anyone to conceal, harbor, or protect an alien from detection in any location, including a building or mode of transportation, with the knowledge or careless disregard of the alien's illegal immigration status.

  • It is illegal under Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) to encourage or induce an alien to come to, enter, or remain in the United States, recognizing or recklessly disregarding the fact that doing so would be illegal.

  • It is unlawful to conspire to commit or aid and abet the commission of any of these crimes under Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(v).

  • It is illegal to bring an alien into the United States who has not been granted permission to enter or remain in the country under Section 1324(a)(2). Unlike alien smuggling, this law covers smuggling at immigration checkpoints and illegal entry points.

  • Section 1324(a)(3)(A) makes it illegal for someone to knowingly recruit at least 10 people with actual knowledge that they are unauthorized aliens in any 12-month span.

Bank Robbery – 18 USC Sec. 2113

The prosecutor must prove any of the following beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you of federal bank robbery in violation of 18 USC 2113:

You took or attempted to take money, property, or another particular item of value belonging to or in the care, custody, control, management, or possession of a bank, savings and loan association, or credit union from the individual or presence of another.

The deposits of the bank or credit union were covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corporation, or National Credit Union Administration at the time of the indictment.

You used force and abuse, or coercion, to obtain certain money, property, or other particular items of value. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

Child Pornography – 18 USC Sec. 2251

The federal prosecution of child pornography is regulated by 18 USC 2252. To be found guilty under Section 2252A of the Child Pornography Act, an individual must possess, manufacture, and distribute child pornography

Viewing child pornography does not constitute a violation of any child pornography legislation. For example, suppose a person admits to viewing child pornography online but does not save the images to his hard drive and is unaware that the images are being saved on his hard drive. In that case, he cannot be charged with possession under federal law.

Under California statute, child pornography is treated similarly. The state of California's child pornography prosecution is regulated by California Penal Code 311.112. To be found guilty under section 311.11, a person must:

  • Have knowledge of or power over child pornography in some form, and

  • Be aware that the photos show an individual under the age of 18 engaging in or simulating sexual activity.

Mail Fraud – 18 USC Sec. 1341

Federal offenses include mail fraud (18 USC section 1341) and wire fraud (18 USC section 1343). Each law is long and complicated, but it can be broken down into three sections. To be found guilty of mail fraud, the prosecutor must establish the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • There was a plan in place for the purpose of defrauding citizens.

  • You engaged in the scheme knowingly and enthusiastically.

  • To further the system, you used a public or private mail service, as well as interstate or international wire contact.

Counterfeiting and Forgery – 18 USC Sec. 21

Federal Counterfeiting Case (18 USC 2320)

  • The prosecutor must prove any of the following beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you of federal counterfeiting:

  • You engaged in, tried to engage in, or conspired to engage in the trafficking of products, services, or prescription drugs.

  • The counterfeit or non-original products, services, or prescription drugs were produced by the copyright owner of these goods, services, or drugs.

  • You were well aware that the products, facilities, or prescription medications were non-original or counterfeit.

  • You intended for the counterfeit products, utilities, or prescription drugs to be passed off as legitimate and circulated as such.

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Money Laundering – 18 USC Sec. 1956

Organized Crime – 18 USC Sec. 1961

Tax evasion – 26 USC Sec. 7201

Internet Fraud – 18 USC Sec. 1030

Securities Fraud – 18 USC Sec. 1348/1349

Sentencing and Punishment at the Federal Level

Federal crimes usually result in much stricter penalties than state criminal charges

For offenses that can be filed in state or federal court, federal statutes have stricter punishment provisions than state statutes. The maximum penalty for federal crimes is, on average, much higher than the maximum penalty for state crimes.

When it comes to making plea bargains, federal prosecutors have even less leeway than state court prosecutors. When it comes to sentencing, federal judges have a lot less leeway. Our federal laws require federal judges to follow strict sentencing guidelines.

For the most part, federal offenses bear additional sentencing enhancements.

Federal convictions have a longer jail time than state convictions

Another significant distinction between federal and state crime punishment is the amount of time you will have to spend if you are convicted of a federal crime. If convicted of federal crimes, you will be forced to complete 85 percent of your sentence in federal court. As a result, if you are sentenced to ten years in jail, you can only serve 8.5 years. However, you can only serve half of your sentence if you are convicted of a state felony. Furthermore, you will complete up to 85 percent of your sentence in certain serious felony cases, but in the vast majority of state felony cases, you can only serve half of the sentence levied. In virtually every case, federal punishment is far tougher than state sentencing.

The Federal Sentencing Framework Is Changing

Unfortunately, despite the significance of sentencing, there are no simple and consistent regulations that have been shown to be successful in achieving the goals of sentencing. Following Congress's passage of, and subsequent disregard for, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which has resulted in a jumble of legislative provisions affecting sentencing, including:

  • Penalties that must be met as a bare minimum

  • Sentencing Guidelines that are "mandatory."

  • Jurisprudence

In most sentencing cases, the probation officer's pre-sentence review and report and the judge's sentencing hearing are the primary means of deciding the extent and circumstances of the crime and the offender's background and characteristics. Prosecutors, as well as law enforcement and probation officers, may exert substantial control over the judge's sentencing choices by:

  • power over the evidence related to the legislative and regulatory requirements

  • their decision on which federal charges to file and which claims to make

  • their gesture power for a variety of sentence reductions

  • enforcing penalties for refusal to cooperate and the assertion of a defendant's rights

Via a series of constitutional rulings, the United States Supreme Court has recently reinvigorated the position of judges and the resources for California Defense Lawyers to advocate:

  • In the case of United States v. Booker, the Sentencing Guidelines were declared "effectively advisory."

  • Gall v. United States (judges are obliged to consider all relevant factors in sentencing)

  • Rita v. United States (judges are free to disagree with a policy underlying a guideline)

This is a fresh and difficult time in criminal sentencing, and you will need the assistance of an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney to get through it successfully.

Subpoena issued by the federal government

You can do the first thing if you obtain a federal subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury in California is contacting a Criminal Defense Attorney in Los Angeles. The federal criminal justice system is a terrifying place to be, and you have no way of knowing if you are:

  • the investigation's primary priority

  • an individual who is being investigated

  • an eyewitness

Except for the subject of a grand jury investigation, there is no 6th Amendment right to counsel in a grand jury proceeding. A grand jury witness, on the other hand, can retain counsel and perform important functions. If you've been served with a federal subpoena, for example, your California Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles can:

  • find out what the grand jury's intentions are

  • to help you make an informed decision on how to react to the grand jury's subpoena

  • Tell the prosecution that you would not be intimidated during your testimony

  • advise you on the dangers of testifying vs. not testifying

  • if required, seek a continuance of the scheduled grand jury appearance

If a grand jury witness agrees to testify, counsel will prepare him or her for the form of questioning that will most likely take place inside the grand jury room. Within the grand jury chamber, a witness has no right to legal representation.

Execution of Search Warrants Issued by the Federal Government

Suppose federal agents approach you as part of a search and seizure of your person or property. In that case, the first thing you can do is contact a California Defense Lawyer because the federal criminal justice system is a terrifying place to be. You have clear constitutional rights that must be secured.

The 4th Amendment offers some protection

The 4th Amendment guarantees the "right of the people to be safe in their persons, homes, documents, and results against unreasonable searches and seizures..." This safeguards two forms of federal warrant expectations: one involving searches and the other involving seizures.

  • When an assumption of privacy that society finds fair is breached, a search occurs.

  • When an individual's possessory rights in land are meaningfully interfered with, the property is seized.

  • A person's seizure denotes a significant, though brief, restriction on that person's freedom of movement.

A federal criminal prosecutor may be able to contest the validity of a search and seizure of an individual or property. Counsel must have the following to provide viable grounds for a claim:

  • The client has a reasonable right of privacy.

  • The action was taken by the government that falls short of that expectation

The 4th Amendment only protects against searches by the US government against "persons" associated with the US; it does not apply to private citizens, foreign officials, or US officials acting against foreign citizens in foreign countries. To clarify, in order to make a legal argument, a California Defense Lawyer would have to find something that is tantamount to government action against an individual related to the United States.

Property Searches and Seizures by the Federal Government

Even if federal warrants are released and may have been given during the search and seizure, there is always a chance that the incriminating objects may be excluded, and you may avoid going to prison.

Federal warrants can only be given if a neutral judge decides that there is probable cause to justify the proposed search. The United States Supreme Court defines "probable cause" as a "reasonable likelihood that contraband or proof of a crime will be discovered in a specific location." It did, however, find probable cause to be a "fluid term."

Even though the court must determine probable cause for federal warrants using a totality-of-the-circumstances procedure, there are recurring concerns that a California Defense Lawyer should address when questioning the validity of the federal warrant:

  • In the agent's supporting affidavit, there was tainted proof.

  • False or missing claims in the supporting affidavit

  • The knowledge is given by an informant's reliability

  • The warrant's supporting material is out of date.

  • The uniqueness of the location to be searched

  • The uniqueness of the things that will be confiscated

  • There is a sufficient connection between the alleged criminal activity and the location where the objects are to be located

  • An anticipatory warrant based on probable cause that such evidence of a crime will be discovered at a specific location in the future

  • Telephonic warrants can have flaws

  • Problems in a search warrant's execution

Objecting to a Federal Search and Seizure Without a Warrant

While the 4th Amendment allows peace officers to obtain federal warrants based on probable cause to justify a search and seizure, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a short, investigative arrest is an exception to the federal warrants law. A "warrantless 4th Amendment seizure, on the other hand, necessitates an objective and specific justification."

In certain cases, the success of the federal prosecution lawyer's motions would be calculated by identifying the incident that occurred. There is no reason to suspect illegal wrongdoing if the experience is consensual. A fair presumption of illegal activity is needed if it is a brief investigative pause. Probable cause is needed if there is an actual arrest.

Issues to Consider When Determining If Federal Agent Contact Was Legal:

  • Debunking the claim of a peaceful meeting

  • Objecting to the brief investigative stop on the grounds that it lacked fair suspicion

For example:

  • The anonymous tip that hasn't been tested

  • Based on ethnicity

  • The traditional argument of a "high-crime city"

  • There was a flight involved

  • A pretext is no longer an option.

  • Detention for a long time

  • Reasonable doubt faded away

Did a federal agent not read your Miranda rights to you?

If you are ever interviewed by federal agents as part of an investigation, the first thing you can do is stay quiet and ask to speak with a criminal defense lawyer. You may need the assistance of a specialist who is competent and skilled in federal criminal procedure during this difficult period. And if you made incriminating remarks to federal agents, there is always a possibility to get those statements thrown out and keep you out of prison (e.g., your Miranda Rights were not read by the federal agent; thus, your confession cannot be used at a criminal trial).

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A breach of a person's Miranda rights, which are warnings to protect against self-incrimination during the questioning of offenders in settings dominated or supervised by law enforcement officers, is the most common reason for comments being suppressed. Statements made during a "custodial interrogation" cannot be used against you unless Miranda safeguards ensure that you (the accused) were informed of your Miranda rights and openly surrendered your right to remain silent and have a Criminal Defense Attorney present prior to the interrogation.

In any federal case, the federal prosecution counsel must consider the following factors:

  • Will a rational person in the same position have thought he or she couldn't stop the questioning and leave?

  • What was the location of the interrogation? Some areas are riskier than others.

  • Are the suspect's comments made in response to a government interrogation or in response to direct questioning?

  • Is it true that the comments were incriminating?

The Miranda alerts were then provided by law enforcement officials. Contrary to common opinion, a Federal Agent's failure to give a defendant the Miranda notices does not constitute a breach of his or her rights; rather, a violation of the suspect's rights happens when a "un-Mirandized" confession is later used in a criminal trial.

Finally, if Miranda alerts were issued:

  • When were they offered to you?

  • Were they sufficient?

  • Were they released?

  • Is the waiver knowingly, freely, and intelligently signed?

  • Was Miranda's right to remain silent invoked?

  • Defense from self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment

People are protected by the 5th Amendment from making "involuntary" incriminating comments to law enforcement that can be used against them in court. An "involuntary" confession is one in which the suspect's self-incrimination is the result of "techniques and practices offensive to due process" used by law enforcement. Involuntary statements are untrustworthy by design, and their usage "violates our basic sense of dignity." A court must weigh all of the situations, concentrating on the character of the accused as well as the federal agents' tactics.

To begin with, the courts mandate that "coercive police conduct" be a legal requirement; therefore, strictly private coercion, no matter how objectionable, does not violate due process. Coercion by private parties that are "procured and sanctioned" by federal agents, on the other hand, might be appropriate.

Did you make a "involuntary" admission to federal agents?

Then, despite Miranda notices, the federal criminal counsel must decide whether law enforcement officers elicited a "involuntary" response from you by determining the following:

  • What was the accused's mental state?

  • Was the convict on probation or parole at the time of his arrest?

  • Was the accused inebriated at the moment, either by alcohol or drugs?

  • What was the accused's physical condition?

  • Was there some physical force used?

  • Was there some psychological blackmail?

  • How long and how intense was the interrogation?

  • Some guarantees of leniency's advantages?

  • Is there any deception on the part of law enforcement?

Bail and Federal Pretrial Release

If you've been arrested for a federal crime, the first thing you can do is find a criminal defense lawyer, since the federal criminal justice system is complicated and sometimes strict when it comes to bail and release.

The Federal Bail Reform Act offers you four options for setting bail during pre-trial release:

  • To let you go on your own recognizance or unsecured bond.

  • To conditionally release you

  • To hold you indefinitely in order to allow for the revocation of your conditional release, expulsion, or exclusion.

  • To keep you detained

When assessing pre-trial release, the judicial officer must consider the following factors:

  • The extent and circumstances of the alleged criminal offense

  • The evidence's weight or credibility

  • Your personality traits (community ties, criminal history, employment, family ties, financial resources, mental condition, etc.)

  • The nature and seriousness of the threat that your release would pose to any individual or community

  • Released on his or her own recognizance or on an unsecured bond prior to trial.

If the court finds that your release on personal recognizance or an unsecured appearance bond will not fairly guarantee your appearance in court or will endanger the protection of any other person or the community, such release will not be issued. Federal judges now have more leeway to detain a defendant if there is a threat to the community's protection, which involves an international community as well as physical damage.

Federal Crimes: The Effect of Federal Criminal Sentences on Immigration

If you are not a naturalized citizen of the United States and have been approached by federal agents as part of an investigation, the first thing you can do is contact a federal Criminal Defense Attorney, since the immigration ramifications of criminal convictions under federal law can be particularly severe for non-citizens.

In certain situations, a person may or may not be aware of whether or not he or she is a US citizen. Since a person may acquire or derive US citizenship from one or both parents, birth abroad does not automatically rule out US citizenship.

The parts of the immigration code governing citizenship acquisition and derivation are among the most difficult to understand, and Congress often amends the applicable laws, often retroactively and often prospectively.

Obtained Citizenship or Born in the United States?

Several factors come into play when determining if a person born outside of the United States has obtained or derived US citizenship, including:

  • Year of birth of the individual

  • Are both parents citizens of the United States?

  • If not, who is the other parent?

  • When did your parents become citizens?

  • The parents' marital status is an important factor to consider.

  • Is an individual valid if they were born out of wedlock?

  • Prior to the person's birth overseas, the amount of time the citizen parent(s) lived in the United States.

  • Whether or not the person was lawfully admitted to or lived in the United States.

  • If the non-parents, citizen's grandparents, or great-grandparents were born in the United States or were ever naturalized citizens of the United States.

Is it possible for me to be accused of a single offense under both state and federal criminal law?

A crime that is punished under California law can also be prosecuted under federal law. This ensures that you could face federal charges even though you are convicted of a crime in California. Both California and federal law will hold you accountable.

Is it illegal to use medical marijuana in the United States?

Under the Controlled Drugs Act, possessing and using medicinal marijuana is a federal offense. The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 made it legal in California. In most cases, where federal law and state law explicitly clash, the federal law will take precedence.

There are several legal technicalities that differentiate California's law from the federal law, such that it is not overridden. You may not face charges from the state if you use medical marijuana in accordance with state law, but you can face criminal penalties under federal law.

The new Obama administration has ordered federal agencies to refrain from prosecuting individuals who use medical marijuana as prescribed by state law. Although this will bring a sigh of relief, you must also abide by California's medical marijuana regulations to escape criminal charges.

Is it true that if my charges were dismissed in state court, they would also be dismissed in federal court?

If the case is dismissed in state court, that does not mean it will be dismissed in federal court, and vice versa. That is why it is important to have a professional Criminal Defense Attorney by your side to protect your rights.

Federal Crime Statute of Limitations

The term of limitations on most criminal offenses is five years from the date of the crime. For federal crimes punishable by death, terrorism, and even federal sex offenses, there is no statute of limitations. As a consequence, if you're facing a criminal charge, it's important to meet with a Criminal Defense Attorney.

Dealing with criminal charges is confusing and exhausting. Finding an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney would be your best shot. is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a California Defense Lawyer that is best suited to handle your case. You can fill our submission form or contact us through our 24/7 live chat for a free online initial consultation.


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