The criminal defense attorneys at Cofer Luster Law Firm, P.C. have been representing criminal defendants for more than 10 years. We’ve handled hundreds of federal cases from the district court level and up. Most of our clients have never had a prior federal criminal charge brought against them. So, we’re going to cover what actually happens in a federal criminal case.
Federal Criminal Investigation
The first step in any federal case is the investigation. Unlike in a state case where a police officer intervenes in a situation and quickly finds evidence or fault of the defendant which may lead to an arrest, in a federal case these investigations usually take a lot of time.
If you find out that you’re being charged for a federal crime, it’s very likely you have been under investigation, perhaps even surveillance, for quite some time as federal agents take a much more proactive and thorough approach to finding evidence and building a case.
During the process of an investigation, federal agents are going to begin by gathering evidence to build their criminal case against you. This can be as straight forward as a “knock and talk” where a couple of agents talk to a witness at their residence. They’ll speak to witnesses first and branch off using the information they learn while questioning individuals.
Eventually, federal agents will want to ask the defendant questions about the case directly. Always remember that you don’t have to answer their questions without first speaking to your criminal defense lawyer. You don’t even have to talk to the agents. Remember that, as agents can be quite pushy on getting you to talk. You don’t have to consent to a search without a warrant. If they do receive a search warrant from a judge, then they can execute that search warrant. Simply stay out of their way during their search for evidence and don’t speak to the agents.
Wiretaps and Surveillance
Wiretaps have become much more common in recent years. Surveillance is also common and can include having agents watching you, your house, your business, and can be gathered in video as well as photos. For them to get a warrant to wiretap you, they’ll need to prepare an affidavit. As your criminal defense lawyers, we want to ensure that your rights are not infringed upon, so we’ll want to review any and all documentation left to you involving your case.
We also often see agents in undercover operations where an agent will pretend to be someone that they are not. Agents may spend a lot of time developing a connections and sources during an undercover operation. It’s also common for the U.S. government to use informants. These people will be identified in early case documents and reports as Confidential Sources (CS) or Confidential Informants (CI). Often these “sources” are paid for information or have a criminal case they are “working off.”
Grand Jury Subpoenas
It’s very easy for a prosecutor to go to a grand jury and get a subpoena for documents or testimony that can then be presented to a grand jury when they’re going to decide on whether to indict someone. It’s important to remember that a grand jury is a one sided affair for the prosecution. As a defense lawyer, we can’t question the witnesses, can’t review the evidence, and can’t make any arguments to the grand jury during this time.
The prosecution has a lot of free reign during a grand jury, and will most likely be able to indict their suspect. Be sure that you aren’t a target of that investigation. If you are a target of the prosecutions investigation, you do have rights and you should consult with our criminal defense team at Cofer Luster Law Firm, P.C.
Federal Criminal Charges
Once the investigation is complete, the government has to decide if they’re going to charge the person or people. In many cases, the government will file a “Complaint” with a magistrate court. A federal criminal complaint is a sworn document setting out some of the gathered evidence that should be enough to establish “probable cause.” In some cases, the United States Attorney will not present a complaint, instead the case is taken directly to the grand jury for indictment. Regardless of whether you are charge with a Complaint or Indictment, in most cases a warrant for arrest is issued by the magistrate.
Once the prosecutor determines that they will charge the suspect, someone is usually going to get arrested. That arrest will likely be made by federal agents and end with the person being taken in front of a federal magistrate for an initial appearance. There are some instances where our clients are able to appear by “summons” rather than being arrested. This is coordinated between the defense attorney, United States Attorney, and the court.
The first time a person is first brought in front of a judge, the magistrate judge will tell the person that was arrested what they’re being charged with, what rights they have, and check to make sure that they have a lawyer. If the person doesn’t have a lawyer and cannot afford a lawyer, then the court will appoint a lawyer to assist with the initial appearance and following preliminary proceedings. In most cases, a person remains in custody between their Initial Appearance and a detention hearing. You should have time before a detention hearing to retain your own criminal defense lawyer, Cofer Luster Law Firm, P.C. Just call 682-777-3336.
The government usually asks a defendant be detained while the case is pending. The judge will then provide a few days for both sides to present their case as to whether or not the person is a danger to society or a flight risk, or whether that person is safe to be out of custody during the case. These detention hearings are important and you need a defense lawyer that’s prepared to show why the client can be released on “pretrial release” or bond.
Preparing for Trial
After the client is released on “pretrial release” or bond, we’ll start preparing for trial. In federal court, the Speedy Trial Act keeps everything running on strict deadlines. Our defense team will look at the evidence provided by the Government and conduct an independent investigation. We explore all of the factual and legal issues surrounding a case to advise our clients on the best course of action and associated risks.
Reviewing “Discovery” Material
This part is called Discovery because the government provides the defense the information that they have about the case. There are clear rules on what the prosecution has to provide. Obviously, many prosecutors don’t want to provide the defense with everything they have. As experienced criminal defense lawyers, we know exactly what types of evidence to ask the government to provide for preparing your defense.
However, we will also do our own investigation into your case because it’s not uncommon to have evidence not be provided early on in the case that would help the defendant. We’ll do the same type of work that the government did, but more so.
Filing motions is our way as the defense to push back against the government to try to find holes in their case to find more information that can be used to weaken their case. Remember, that the government has to prove your guilt to a jury. Sometimes, even if we don’t win the motion, it may lead to cross-examination of the agent. Three common motions include:
- Motions to suppress evidence asking the court do exclude evidence for constitutional or evidentiary reasons;
- Request for a Bill of Particulars narrowing the government’s case at trial; and
- Motions to Sever so codefendants are not improperly tried in front of the same jury.
Guilty Plea or Trial
At some point early in the case, you have to decide whether you’re going to enter a guilty plea or go to trial. If you’re not guilty, never enter a guilty plea. The exception is an “Alford Plea.” If you decide to consider pleading guilty, we enter into plea discussions. Always make sure you’re getting something out of it. At Cofer Luster Law Firm, P.C. we always enter a case with the mindset that we are going to do whatever we can to get the case dismissed and if that doesn’t happen then we’re going to present the best possible defense at trial.
There are risks to going to trial, especially when there is a minimum sentencing requirement. The benefit out of going to trial is being found “Not Guilty,” and that you may be able to walk out the front door of that courtroom with your legal counsel after a jury finds you “Not Guilty.”
Federal convictions almost always result in a prison sentence. Living with a criminal offense on your record is very serious. If you have a chance at winning your case by dismissal or at trial, then we are going to do everything possible to make that happen.
Hire an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Hire a knowledgeable and experienced federal defense attorney like Cody Cofer in Fort Worth, Texas to fight for you when you’ve been charged with a federal crime. With years of experience and practice in the Federal Court system, Cody Cofer will fight for a dismissal of your case or a “Not Guilty” verdict. To hire Cofer Luster Law Firm, P.C. as your Federal Defense Lawyer, call us at (682) 777-3336.