Criminal cases in federal and state courts are both governed by the United States Constitution. However, there are substantial differences between the litigation of federal criminal cases and state-level cases. Federal criminal cases such as securities and investment fraud and cases pertaining to white collar crime require a thorough understanding of the distinct differences in federal law. Failure to discern and prepare for these variances in the two different courts could be the difference between years in prison, a fine, or even freedom.
Federal cases are governed by a distinct set of guidelines that include:
- The United States Code. There are more than 4,000 different federal crimes in the United States. The federal court system, like other common law systems, makes rulings based on legal precedent. There are a vast number of court cases that offer various interpretations of existing federal criminal statutes. Your legal counsel must be thoroughly versed in federal criminal code and the operation of the specific charging statutes based on the interpretation of existing legal precedent. They must assess the merit and weight of specific federal charges, determine the viability of defending the charges, and present an expert defense.
- The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. These procedural rules govern nearly every aspect of a federal criminal case. This includes grand jury procedures such as the initial appearance of the defendant and the arraignment process. The criminal discovery process, including subpoenas, the filing of a motion for dismissal, and federal procedure for sentencing, all fall under these distinct rules. A federal criminal defendant needs an expert attorney with intimate knowledge of the rules and timelines that apply to specific procedures to ensure they are carried out in a precise and expedient fashion. Failure to properly execute federal rules of criminal procedure will be detrimental to the outcome of the case.
- The Federal Rules of Evidence. The Federal Rules of Evidence oversee the determination of evidence admissibility in federal trials. Similar to the United States Code, there is a wealth of existing case law that interprets every Rule of Evidence. The defense attorney must be knowledgeable and adept at using the Federal Rules of Evidence to effectively dispute charges against the defendant. If the case goes to trial, they must offer evidence in front of the jury that supports a client’s innocence. Issues surrounding evidence admissibility can be notably complex. Argumentation surrounding evidence often takes place in pretrial motions. A victory by the defense at this stage, using the Federal Rules of Evidence, can lead to a more favorable outcome through negotiations with federal prosecutors. It can ultimately be a deciding factor between conviction and acquittal.
- An attorney must also be familiar with federal case laws used to interpret The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and The Federal Rules of Evidence at the specific circuit in which the litigation takes place.
- The United States Sentencing Guidelines. Although sentencing guidelines only play an advisory role in federal litigation outcomes, they are extremely influential. A vast number of case law interpretations exist. For an experienced attorney, these are invaluable in arguing legal issues impacting a range of sentencing guidelines. To effectively represent a client in a federal sentencing case, an attorney must possess extensive knowledge and experience with these guidelines.
Prosecutorial Discretion in State and Federal Courts
Prosecutions at the state level occur within the confines of their jurisdictions – the state. Federal prosecutors have discretion to pursue cases from anywhere. Federal and state prosecutors alike have the discretion not to pursue a case, depending on various circumstances. Once a decision is made to prosecute a case, federal authorities can put a vast number of resources into the investigation and preparation of their federal case.
During the pretrial discovery procedure, the exchange of information among federal authorities is extensive. Federal authorities have access to a wide range of investigative techniques and resources, allowing them to obtain volumes of documents, computer files, and recorded conversations. An effective criminal defense attorney protecting clients from federal crimes must have a system in place to review discovery that is both reliable and efficient. The dissemination of evidence relevant to the defense of the case and familiarity with discovery case law are paramount in obtaining favorable evidence.
Witness Testimony Challenges
The key to the government’s case in many federal criminal investigations is built on multiple statements gathered during witness interviews. An effective criminal defense attorney will have a strategy to negate the credibility of testimony that can damage the defense. This will require a deep knowledge of the Federal Rules of Evidence and a background in investigative techniques.
Federal criminal cases often involve specialized knowledge. The prosecution may involve securities issues, the medical industry, or the banking field. In these cases, experts in their field are utilized as witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense. A federal criminal defense attorney must have experience working with expert witnesses and effectively challenging expert testimony for the prosecution. Federal criminal defense lawyers must possess skills to engage expert witnesses. They must also possess a thorough knowledge of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the specific case law that relates to expert testimony to procure a favorable outcome in a federal court.