The unknown is what makes the criminal justice process at the federal level something people fear. If a person knows what to expect and how the process works, it can be easier for the individual to navigate. For this reason, this column will briefly address what Michigan residents can expect if they find themselves suspected of committing a federal crime.
All criminal cases start with an alleged crime, followed by an investigation. Rather than local police looking into the matter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other federal agency will take the lead on federal cases. Depending on the case, federal agents may make an arrest with or without a warrant right away, or they may delay making any arrests until they have what they believe is sufficient evidence to prove guilt.
After being arrested, the accused will attend an initial court hearing where a judge will determine if he or she should remain in custody or be released for the time being. This hearing must be done within 72 hours of one’s arrest. It may be completed without legal counsel if the accused has yet to retain representation.
Following the initial court hearing, there will be an arraignment at which official charges will be provided to the accused. He or she will then be able to enter a guilty or not guilty plea. If a guilty is plea is entered, the accused will have the opportunity to prepare for trial. If a guilty plea is entered due to a plea agreement being struck, trial will be avoided.
If a case moves to trial, a discovery period is granted giving both sides time to investigate and prepare for what is to come. After the discovery period is over, the trial will begin. After the completion of the trial, the defendant will either be released and charges dropped, or found guilty. If found guilty, sentencing will take place at a separate hearing.
Most federal cases are settled through plea bargains; few make it to trial. If found guilty of committing a federal crime at trial, however, it may be possible to appeal the conviction. Legal counsel can provide information on that if it becomes necessary.
Some federal cases can take years to complete. Michigan residents facing federal charges don’t want to wait until the last minute to seek help, however. The sooner one addresses the situation, the better.