Federal Criminal Process
Two events in the early 1980s fundamentally altered federal criminal procedure. Would-be Presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. used a broad insanity defense to avoid prison, so Congress changed these rules. At about the same time, a drug overdose killed basketball phenom Len Bias, so Congress changed these laws as well. However, one thing has not changed in federal criminal procedure. Plea bargains, and not trials, resolve almost all criminal cases.
The experienced Orlando federal crime lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group have over thirty five years combined experience in federal criminal cases. Our lawyers are intimately familiar with all the procedural quirks in Orlando. That includes the unwritten rules as well as the written ones. Only a select group of criminal defense attorneys in Florida are fully licensed to practice in federal court. We’re proud to be on that list.
The Charging Stage in Federal Criminal Cases
Federal prosecutors often rely on the shock-and-awe effect to get a step ahead of criminal defendants before the case even begins. Many times, this tactic is highly effective.
Whenever possible, prosecutors usually file extensive, multi-count indictments against defendants. Mail and wire fraud cases are a good example. Every time the defendant clicks a mouse, makes a phone call, or licks a stamp, prosecutors add a separate fraud count.
Not to worry. An experienced attorney can almost always get most of these extraneous counts dismissed. Furthermore, even if some multiple counts remain, defendants almost always serve sentences concurrently instead of consecutively.
Very few state criminal cases, except for murder and other serious felonies, involve grand juries. But the grand jury is a staple of federal criminal prosecutions. Many people think that if they appear before the grand jury and “explain things,” the grand jury will not indict them. But that’s usually not true. Defense attorneys cannot be in the same room as testifying defendants. Moreover, defendants who constantly ask for breaks to consult with counsel almost always appear to be hiding something.
It’s usually best to let these cases go to the next stage. At that point, a defense attorney has lots of options.
What Happens When the Case Goes to Court?
The Hinkley matter made it much more difficult to defend cases in federal court on substantive grounds. Doctrines like self-defense, entrapment, and insanity are still available, and they are highly relevant in many cases. But these doctrines are usually affirmative defenses, meaning that the defendant has the burden of proof.
Ordinarily, federal prosecutors must establish every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This term has no widely-accepted definition. But generally, proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt” if, after hearing both sides of the story, the jurors do not waver in their belief that the defendant is guilty.
Procedural defenses are available as well. These defenses are especially common in complex drug cases and other such matters. Common procedural defenses include:
- Lack of reasonable suspicion for the stop,
- Failing to obtain a search warrant,
- Chain of custody evidentiary issues,
- No applicable search warrant exception, and
- Lack of probable cause for the arrest.
Procedural defects like these are almost impossible to cure. So, federal judges often throw cases out of court in these situations.
Resolving Federal Criminal Cases in Florida
Partially in response to the Len Bias case, federal lawmakers authorized very stiff sentences for minor crimes and tried to eliminate judicial discretion in sentencing matters. Some of these requirements remain, although recent changes to the law have changed the landscape.
Because of these changes, federal procedure at this juncture is much like state procedure. Agreed plea bargains resolve about 95 percent of federal criminal cases. These agreements usually involve a lesser charge and/or a shorter sentence.
Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys
Complex federal criminal cases require advanced legal representation. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Orlando, contact the O’Mara Law Group. We routinely handle matters in Orange County and nearby jurisdictions.