Federal Court System
Navigating the Federal Court System
When someone faces a criminal indictment from the federal government, he or she is at the beginning of a serious legal struggle. Many people are somewhat confused by the organization, nomenclature and processes involved with the federal court system, but as you’ll see below, the process involved with a federal criminal case is somewhat similar to that of a state criminal court proceeding.
Below is a brief overview of how a typical federal criminal case proceeds.
Step One — Pretrial
After a defendant is arrested and processed, the federal government begins its prosecution by assigning a pretrial services or probation officer to the case in order to investigate the defendant’s background. This is done so that the judge can decide whether or not to hold the defendant in custody until the trial date.
Step Two — Arraignment
The first ‘official’ court appearance by the defendant is called the arraignment. At this hearing, the defendant tells the federal judge whether he or she intends to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges brought. After the plea is entered, the judge decides on bail, but bail is not guaranteed, as the defendant can be held in custody until the trial is complete.
Step Three — Pretrial Motions
After the initial appearance is complete and a trial date is set, attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense appear before the judge to argue pretrial motions. These motions are generally centered on evidence, and specifically whether certain evidence will be admissible in trial. This is a crucial step, because the more evidence that’s allowed at trial, the worse it tends to be for the defendant.
Step Four — The Trial
Finally, after all of the preliminary steps have been taken, the trial is held. A jury is selected to hear the case, and evidence is presented by both sides in accordance with the motions that were decided at the hearing held before the trial began. The government must prove that the defendant is guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ and if that burden has not been met, the jury must find the defendant not guilty.
Final Step — Post-Trial
At the end of the trial, either the jury decides that the defendant is not guilty, and he or she is immediately released, or the defendant is found guilty, at which time he or she will sentenced by the judge, usually at a separate hearing. The judge considers all evidence from trial and the pretrial report, and federal judges are generally bound by strict and stiff sentencing guidelines.
As you see, this is a very involved and detailed process. If you or someone you love is facing federal criminal charges, you need to act immediately to begin the process of building your defense. Contact the Blanch Law Firm as soon as possible to schedule an initial consultation.
For New York state court system information, click here.