Federal crimes are different, and representing a person or company facing a federal criminal charge is a specialty. Paul Kish is an Atlanta Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer who has specialized in federal criminal defense for 36 years.
Federal crimes are different from state cases for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the federal government has enormous resources. Many cases are investigated by large groups of federal agents from various agencies, all focused on a single person or company. The case is funded by the Department of Justice and other federal agencies. In court, the federal government regularly assigns multiple prosecutors to a single case. These prosecutors, called Assistant United States Attorneys (or “AUSA” for short), are usually very experienced, highly-qualified, well-trained and paid far more than most state court District Attorneys.
Another difference is the method by which a case is brought to court for prosecution. State cases generally come about because the police bring the results of their investigation to the District Attorney for prosecution. The DA has some, but not too much, discretion to decline the case. Federal cases, on the other hand, are accepted or rejected based on the complete discretion of the AUSA and his or her boss. The federal government generally only accepts the case with a “substantial federal interest.” As a general rule, the federal government will only accept larger cases involving significant amounts of monetary loss, large-scale drug dealing, harm to federal programs and similar considerations.
Federal criminal cases are also different because of the procedures and the specific criminal laws used in federal court. One of the biggest procedural differences is the Speedy Trial Act. Under this law, the court has 10 weeks, or 70 days, from a person’s first appearance on an indictment to have a trial. This is a much shorter time frame that the usual process in state court. There are a variety of ways to stop the Speedy Trial Act “clock”, but for the most part these more complex matters go to trial more quickly than the somewhat simpler state court cases.
Another procedural difference between federal courts and state cases comes with what we lawyers call “discovery”, which is basically the evidence that the prosecutor intends to use against a Defendant. In state court, the District Attorney has to turn over everything that he or she has in their file, including witnesses and their statements. Federal court has discovery that is both more limited, and at the same time, more extensive than what is done in state court. Federal prosecutors do not have to turn over the names of witnesses or even what the witness says, until just before trial (although most judges urge them to do so at least the weekend prior to the trial). While they don’t have to turn over the witnesses until just before trial, federal prosecutors make it a practice to try and bury the defense lawyer with other evidence and discovery. It is not unusual in a federal case for the defense attorney to provide an entire computer hard drive to copy all of the discovery materials, even though the AUSA has no intention of using most of the material. This makes the defense lawyer’s job even more difficult, trying to figure out which out of millions of documents are the most important materials and which ones the prosecutor will actually use at trial.
The sentencing schemes are another huge difference between federal and state court criminal cases. Most state court crimes have no mandatory penalty, and if they do, there are many methods for a Judge to avoid the minimum if the Judge feels it is appropriate in a particular case. A federal Judge has less discretion and is often constrained by mandatory and sometimes consecutive sentencing requirements, even if the Judge feels that leniency is called for. Furthermore, the federal Sentencing Guidelines impact much of the way criminal law is practiced in the federal courts. These rules are no longer mandatory after a huge change by the Supreme Court in 2005, but these Guidelines are still the starting point for any potential federal criminal sentence. The Guidelines were first created in 1984, first used in 1987, and have been amended every November thereafter. What began as a several-hundred page booklet has grown to multiple volumes of ever-increasingly complicated rules for various types of federal cases. This is often where the federal criminal defense specialist can accomplish much more for his or her client than an otherwise very established state court practitioner who is lost in the arcane Guideline world.
Any person or company facing a potential federal criminal case needs to have an advocate experienced in such matters. As noted before, Paul Kish is an Atlanta Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer who specializes in such matters. Contact him if you feel he can help you with such a case.