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The federal government consistently follows the same process when investigating an individual it believes has committed a federal crime whether the investigation is out of Los Angeles, Chicago, or Washington, DC.

In many cases you will receive some form of communication from a federal law enforcement agency like the FBI. It may come in the form of a "target" letter (which means you are about to be indicted), or a telephone call (they tell you that they only want to ask you a few questions).

Oftentimes, though, it comes in the form of a doorbell ring. You answer the door and find two agents dressed in navy suits and white button down shirts asking if they can come into your living room to visit with you. Other times the personal visit is at your office.

This is a very critical stage of the proceedings. Agents are trained to get people to talk to them, who do not want to talk to them. Your questions such as, "Do I need a federal criminal lawyer?", "Should I get a federal criminal lawyer?", "I think I may need a federal criminal lawyer," are not definite enough to stop the agents' questioning. The firm suggests that you politely respond to any such requests with, "I'm sorry, but I will need to retain a federal criminal attorney before I can speak with you." Be polite, but firm.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is okay for federal agents to trick, lie, and deceive as part of the investigatory process. Do not answer any of their questions. Do not try to explain why their theory of the facts is wrong. You can not control the questions that the agents ask, but more importantly, you can not control their interpretation of your answers. The U.S. Congress has said that if an agent comes to you and says, "We are investigating mail fraud activity that occurred yesterday, at such and such a location, did you do it?" and you say, "No," and you are later charged and convicted of mail fraud, the agents can come back and charge you with lying to a federal agent. This is a separate criminal offense that carries up to 5 years without parole, which would be added, or stacked, onto whatever time you received from the mail fraud conviction.

Again, be polite, but firm, and do not speak with the agents unless you have a competent federal criminal lawyer present.

The federal government follows the same process when charging an individual with a federal crime whether the charges are out of Houston, Atlanta, or Baltimore. An Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) and a federal agent will go to a secret group of people, 23 in number, and will present to the secret group of people a one-sided government view of why they think that an individual has violated a federal criminal statute. The individual is not allowed to be present, nor is his attorney. In fact, the individual probably does not even know that it is happening when it is happening. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that if the government has any evidence that tends to show that the individual is innocent, it does not have to be presented to the secret group of people. If after the one-sided government presentation, the secret group of people, also known as a Federal Grand Jury, believes that the individual probably committed a crime (probable cause) then the foreman of the Federal Grand Jury will sign a piece of paper that says that the Federal Grand Jury believes that the individual probably committed a crime. That piece of paper is called an Indictment. The individual has now been indicted by the U.S. Government and the individual did not know that happened when it occurred, because it was done secretly. The AUSA and the federal agent will then leave the Federal Grand Jury Room, and walk down the hall to see a Federal Magistrate Judge. The AUSA in over 99% of the cases will ask the Federal Magistrate Judge for an arrest warrant.

The first that the individual will know that he has been indicted is when 12 to 18 federal agents, guns drawn, are at the indicted individual's house or office to arrest him.

At the state level, the city and state in which you live is governed by a different set of criminal laws than the other states and territories. Federal law is consistent throughout the nation. Whether a member of the firm walks into a federal courtroom in Las Vegas, Manhattan, or Fort Lauderdale, the federal statutes, rules of procedure and rules of evidence are the same. For instance, the state law regarding mail fraud in Miami, Florida is perhaps different from that found in San Francisco, California, but the federal law is the same.

How do you know if you are being investigated or have been charged with a state crime or a federal crime? There are three main characteristics that may help indicate whether you are facing the state or federal system:

  1. Investigating agencies,
  2. Types of crimes, and
  3. Court in which you appeared.
Investigating Agencies
If you have been arrested or questioned by the police at the city, county, parish or state level, this usually indicates that you are suspected of a state crime.

Federal law enforcement agencies frequently encountered by defendants are:
  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);
  2. Criminal Division of the IRS (CID);
  3. United States Secret Service;
  4. United States Postal Inspection Service;
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA);
  6. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); and
  7. United States Marshals Service.
It is possible for a state law enforcement agency to initially bring charges that are later taken over by a federal agency.

Types of Federal Crimes
Crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the federal government most often concern large amounts of money defrauded or drugs sold, and involve crossing state lines. Crimes routinely prosecuted in federal courts are:
  1. 18 U.S.C. 371- Conspiracy to commit white-collar crimes
  2. 18 U.S.C. 1341- Mail Fraud
  3. 18 U.S.C. 1343- Wire Fraud
  4. 18 U.S.C. 1344- Bank Fraud
  5. 18 U.S.C. 1349- Conspiracy to commit white-collar crimes
  6. 18 U.S.C. 1956- Money Laundering
  7. 18 U.S.C. 1957- Money Laundering
  8. 21 U.S.C. 841- Drug Possession Crimes
  9. 21 U.S.C. 846- Conspiracy to commit federal drug crimes
  10. 21 U.S.C. 952- Drug Importation Crimes
About ninety-five percent of federal criminal cases are conspiracy cases. If you are being investigated for a crime that concerns many defendants who allegedly worked together on a particular scheme, chances are you are facing federal criminal charges.

Federal Criminal Courts
Defendants appearing in federal courts are immediately aware of the formality and unforgiving nature of the setting. United States Federal Judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States with Senate confirmation. They follow strict guidelines established by Congress.

If convicted of a federal crime, a defendant will serve practically all of his or her entire sentence. Parole (early release) is not recognized in the federal system. A 15% reduction in sentence may be available for "Good Time." If one has an alcohol or drug addiction, a further reduction in sentence may also be possible.

See here for additional information regarding Mail Fraud, Public Corruption, RICO Crimes, and Securities Fraud.