Most people who have experienced a court proceeding have done so in a state court. What you may not entirely understand is that there is an entirely separate federal court system where you can also be charged with crimes. One of the most jarring things about the dual federal and state court systems is that you can be charged with the same crime in federal court that you have already been charged with in state court, or vice versa. So long as both the state and the federal government have a law criminalizing the activity in question, you can be charged and sentenced in both courts without running afoul of the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution.
At the Rice, Murtha & Psoras, our Baltimore federal criminal charges defense attorneys have many years of experience handling federal court cases. We understand how the federal system works differently than state systems and the unique rules and regulations in the federal courts. We will fight aggressively to get your charges reduced or dismissed. If you have been charged with a federal crime, call us today at (410) 694-7291.
How the Federal Criminal Justice System Works in Baltimore
Federal crimes are investigated by a federal agency such as the FBI, DEA, or ATF. These agencies will collect evidence of a crime and then pass it on to a federal prosecutor, known as a United States Attorney. The U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the president. In federal felony cases, it is a requirement that a grand jury must issue an indictment based on the evidence and witnesses presented to them before a defendant can be formally charged with a crime. Federal misdemeanor crimes do not have to come before the grand jury and can be charged based on the signed statement of a federal officer.
Cases in the federal court system originate in what are known as district courts, and appeals are handled by the Circuit Courts. Baltimore is under the auspices of the District Court of Maryland, and, for appeals, the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court. The first step after your arrest on federal charges will be your arraignment in the district court. At your arraignment, your charges will be read to you and you will have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. It is vital that at this point, you have an experienced federal crimes defense attorney like those at the Rice, Murtha & Psoras representing you. Your attorney will almost certainly advise you to enter a plea of not guilty while they collect evidence and assess the strength of the case against you.
In certain cases, there may be a preliminary hearing, where the U.S. Attorney must present evidence enough to prove that there is a viable case against you. If the case proceeds, your attorney will negotiate with the U.S. Attorney in an attempt to work out a plea deal. The Government may offer the defendant a plea deal to avoid an expensive and time-consuming trial. The deal may be to plead to a lesser charge or to reduce your exposure to a more-lengthy sentence.
If a deal cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial. All federal cases are tried before a jury, and the jury must make a unanimous decision to convict. If they vote to convict, there will be a sentencing hearing where the judge will impose penalties.
Types of Crimes Charged in Federal Court in Baltimore
Crimes like homicide, robbery, burglary, rape, and arson are usually handled in the state courts when they occur entirely within one’s states borders. Criminal cases are largely brought in the federal courts only when they implicate some sort of federal issue or involve conduct that crosses state lines. Some of the most common cases brought in federal courts in Baltimore involve drug smuggling operations that operate not only in Maryland, but throughout several different states. Others might involve large-scale fraud rings or organized crime, where the organization takes places across state lines. If you kidnap someone and drive them across the country, federal charges are likely to follow.
Federal crimes are also brought if they involve a federal agent or occur on federal land. For example, if you commit arson on federal land, you will be charged in the federal court system, rather than state court. If you murder a federal agent, charges are also likely to be brought in federal court. Note that, as mentioned at the outset of this article, you can still be charged with such a murder in the federal court even if you have already been tried and acquitted in the state court, so long as both the federal government and the state criminalize the action in some way.
Penalties for Federal Crimes in Baltimore
Generally speaking, penalties for federal crimes are harsher than they are for state crimes. Judges typically base their sentences off the U.S. Sentencing Guide, which is set by the Federal Sentencing Commission and often contains more severe punishments than those set by state and local governments. In addition, federal courts have much more time and resources to devote to your case that local and state courts, which are often overcrowded. This means that having a competent, knowledgeable Baltimore federal crimes defense attorney like those on the team at the Rice, Murtha & Psoras is extremely important, as the U.S. Attorney is going to be much more aggressive in pursuing a conviction than an overworked local prosecutor might be.
Call Our Team of Skilled Baltimore Federal Crime Defense Attorneys
There is a reason that the saying goes “don’t make a federal crime out of it.” Federal crimes are extremely serious, and the federal government has nearly endless resources to pour into prosecuting cases against you. When you learn that you have been charged with a federal crime, or even that you are merely under investigation by a federal agency, your first call should be to an experienced Baltimore federal criminal charges defense attorney like those at the Rice, Murtha & Psoras. The sooner we get to work on your case, the better chance we have of mitigating any potential damage to your life and reputation. Call us today at (410) 694-7291 for a free consultation.