Federal Crimes Frequently Asked Questions

Gus KostopoulosAre you, or someone you know, currently facing federal criminal charges? The decisions you make throughout the criminal process will have a significant impact on your future. It is important to choose a federal criminal defense attorney who not only has experience, but also an in-depth understanding of federal criminal law and procedure.

At the Kostopoulos Law Group, our attorneys are well-versed in federal law and understand the challenge you face in federal court. We have the tools that are necessary to defend you and get the best possible result in your federal criminal matter.

When we meet with clients for a free consultation we are often asked several of the same questions. In order to help you understand the seriousness of your situation, we have provided some of those questions and our answers here for you. Once you have reviewed this primer on federal crimes contact our attorneys for more specific information about your case. We would be happy to review your case, explain your rights, and answer the questions you have.

State vs. Federal: When is a crime tried in federal court, rather than in state court?

The state and federal governments are separate and, as a result, have their own specific laws.

State Crimes

States are generally free to pass their own laws and decide (within reason) which conduct is legal and illegal. Most crimes are actually classified at the state level. When you violate a state law you will face charges in state court. This means that local law enforcement, local investigative agencies, and state prosecutors will be handling your case. State and local judges will oversee your criminal matter and make decisions about your future.

Federal Crimes

The federal government also has its own penal code with its own defined crimes. Many of these crimes target widespread criminal operations that cross state lines. Other federal crimes target financial and white collar crimes. When you violate a federal law you will face charges in federal court. This means that federal law enforcement officers, federal investigative agencies, and federal prosecutors will be handling your case. Federal judges will oversee your federal criminal matter and, if you are convicted, impose extremely harsh criminal penalties.

What if I Violate Both a Federal and State Laws?

Many actions – such as possession of certain controlled substances –  are prohibited by both Illinois state and federal laws. When you are charged with a crime that is punishable at both levels, the government will analyze your specific actions and determine where the case should be tried. Factors that are relevant in this analysis include:

  1. The seriousness of the criminal offense,
  2. The level of harm and/or injuries caused by your actions,
  3. Whether the criminal activity crossed state lines, and
  4. Your own criminal record.

Dual Sovereignty

It is important to understand that just because your case is tried at the federal level does not mean that you cannot also be tried at the state level (and vice versa). Why doesn’t this violate your Constitutional protection against double jeopardy? When your conduct violates both federal and state laws it will be considered to be two separate acts. As a result, under the doctrine of dual sovereignty, you can be tried twice (in separate courts) for one criminal act.

How Are Federal Crimes Classified?

Federal crimes are broken down into two primary categories: misdemeanors and felonies. First-time criminal offenders who commit relatively minor federal crimes will likely be charged with a misdemeanor. Subsequent offenders and/or individuals who commit relatively serious crimes will likely be charged with a felony. Felonies carry substantially greater time behind bars and more expensive criminal fines than misdemeanors.

What are the Penalties for Federal Crimes?

One of the biggest differences between state crimes and federal crimes is the criminal sentence that can be imposed in the event of a conviction. Federal crimes tend to carry much harsher criminal penalties than state crimes. As a result, if you are convicted of a federal offense you will likely be sentenced to time in prison and be required to pay substantial criminal fines.

The federal government has established sentencing guidelines to help ensure that there is a uniform application of punishment across the board. The guidelines are broken down into four distinct zones. The zone where the range of criminal penalties that can be imposed in your specific case will depend on two factors: the level of your offense and your criminal history.

Zone A: Crimes designated in Zone A are punishable by 0-6 months behind bars.

Zone B: Crimes designated in Zone B are punishable by no less than 1 month and no more than 15 months in prison.

Zone C: Crimes designated in Zone C are punishable by no less than 10 months and no more than 18 months in prison.

Zone D: Zone D is the largest of all of the zones and, as a result, the range of penalties that can be applied to a Zone D crime vary significantly. At the very least, Zone D crimes must carry a penalty of 15 months in prison. The maximum sentence for Zone D penalties is life in prison.

Can You Get Probation for a Federal Crime?

In some federal cases, you may be able to avoid a mandatory term of imprisonment and be sentenced to probation, instead. You will be much more likely to avoid time behind bars if you commit a relatively minor crime and have little-to-no history of criminal behavior. When probation is imposed, it must be for a term of at least one year.

Do Federal Cases Usually Go to Trial?

Most federal criminal cases never make it to trial. In fact, an average of 97 percent of all federal criminal matters result in a plea bargain between the government and the defendant. However, you have the right to take your case to trial and put the matter in the hands of a judge or jury. If you are confident that you can beat the charges and/or are unhappy with the plea agreements offered to you, the Kostopoulos Law Group will not hesitate to take your case to court.

Our federal criminal defense attorneys understand how to create a persuasive yet understandable legal defense that can appeal broadly to a jury. When we take your case to court we will use the evidence and facts to your advantage, highlighting where the government’s case against you is weak. The harder we make it for the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the greater your chances of walking away with a favorable deal.

What Should I Expect When I Face Federal Charges?

When you are charged with a federal crime it is important to understand the the criminal proceedings can take months from beginning to end. If you intend to fight the charges and take your case to court the process can take significantly longer. Here is an overview of the major steps that may be involved in a federal criminal matter:

Initial Appearances & Arraignment. During a series of initial hearings you will have the opportunity to learn about your rights, be advised of the charges that have been filed against you, and enter a plea. The court will also determine if you will be detained or released for the duration of criminal proceedings. If you are to be detained, your attorney can argue for bail at a detention hearing.

Discovery, Investigation, & Negotiation. If you enter a plea of not guilty, your case must go to trial. In the weeks and months before your scheduled trial date, your attorney and the federal prosecutor will review and analyze discovery items, launch independent investigations into your alleged crime, and try to resolve the matter without going to court. If no plea agreement is reached and no extensions are granted, your federal trial must begin no later than 70 days from the date of your initial appearance in court.

Trial Arguments. During trial, your attorney and the federal prosecutor will present their legal arguments and evidence to a judge and/or jury. Once both sides have exhausted their arguments the jury will leave and discuss the case.

Jury Deliberations. The jury must unanimously agree on the decision they make for each count against you. If the jury decides that you are not guilty you will be released from custody and free to leave. If the jury decides that you are guilty you will be detained and the case will proceed to sentencing.

Sentencing. Once you have been found guilty of a federal crime a judge will review the specifics of your case and, with the assistance of the federal sentencing guidelines, impose a criminal penalty.

    Federal Crimes Defense in Chicago, IL

    Have you been charged with a federal crime? If so, it is important to take immediate and affirmative steps to protect your future. The best thing you can do in this situation is contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. At the Kostopoulos Law Group, we have more than 30 years of combined legal experience handling complex federal criminal matters. We know that the consequences of a conviction in federal court would devastate you and your family, and we will aggressively fight on your behalf to achieve the best possible outcome. Call our Chicago federal criminal defense attorneys today to schedule a free consultation and learn more. We will review your case, explain your rights, and answer the questions you have.

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