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Attorneys Douglas Daniel and Woodrow "Woody" Halstead in courtroom

Federal Crime Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is My Case In Federal Court Instead of State Court?

Federal jurisdiction is most often triggered by either criminal activity that involves an interstate transaction or medium, or criminal conspiracies involving multiple defendants. Any offense that uses wire transfers, or the internet or the postal service can trigger federal jurisdiction. This includes such offenses as banking crimes, wire fraud, identity theft and child pornography.

How Does Plea Bargaining In Federal Court Differ From That In State Court?

One of the most important differences between state court and federal court lies in plea bargains. Unlike state court prosecutions where a defendant can agree to plead guilty in exchange for a recommendation from the prosecutor that the judge sentence the defendant to a specific sentence, plea offers from federal prosecutors typically do not include a recommendation for a specific number of years of prison time. In Federal Court a defendant is expected to plead guilty to the charges without knowing what his sentence will be. The plea agreement will always include language to the effect that the defendant understands this. Furthermore, a defendant in federal court cannot appeal his sentence because it turned out to be higher than what he expected.

How Is Sentencing In Federal Court Different From Sentencing In State Court?

The amount of time you receive in the way of a sentence in state court is usually something that is part of the plea bargain. State court defendants almost always know what their sentence is going to be before it is pronounced by the Judge. It is not that way in Federal Court. Because so many Federal case involve a plea, the real work in a federal case usually begins with the sentencing phase.

Federal Sentences are determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Effective representation by your lawyer requires a thorough understanding of how these guidelines are to be applied. After you enter a plea, a member of the U.S. Probation Department will be assigned your case and given the responsibility of preparing a Pre-sentence Report that advises the Court how the Guidelines should be applied in your case and what your sentence should be. A copy of this Pre-sentence Report is provided to your attorney and he/she is given the opportunity to file comments and objections to the Report. Only an experienced and knowledgeable attorney will know how to utilize all of the provisions of the Guidelines to your advantage and best present your case to the Court for sentencing.

What Is A 5K Letter?

Section 5K of the Sentencing Guidelines allows the Court to depart from an application of the guidelines when it is brought to the Court’s attention that a defendant has provided substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of another individual who committed a criminal offense. A 5K Letter is a document from a federal prosecutor that describes for the Court how and to what degree a defendant has provided assistance. Upon receipt of such a letter, the Court can depart from the guidelines and impose a lower sentence on a defendant, depending on how helpful he has been to the government. This is a particularly effective weapon in the hands of a federal prosecutor, especially in conspiracy cases. This is also one of the two ways a defendant can receive a sentence below the mandatory minimum for some offenses.

What Is A Safety Valve?

Safety Valve refers to a provision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that permits a defendant to receive a sentence below a statute’s mandatory minimum. In order to qualify for Safety Valve a defendant 1.) must have a limited criminal history, 2.) not have used violence possessed a firearm in connection with the offense, 3.) not have committed an offense that resulted in death or serious bodily injury to any person, 4.) not have been an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others and 5.) not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant must have truthfully provided to the Government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense.