Whether through a traffic ticket or a relative’s criminal proceeding, most people in America are familiar with the state court system. However, it is far less common for the average person to have an understanding of the federal court system, which functions as an entirely separate and independent entity. Federal prosecutors, known as United States Attorneys, bring their own charges and can even bring the same charges that have already been brought against you in state court, so long as both the federal government and the state criminalize the underlying acts.
At the Law Offices of Randolph Rice, our experienced Maryland federal charges criminal defense attorneys understand the differences between federal and state courts and have a proven track record successfully defending against federal charges. We are here to guide you through what can be a confusing process and to help you bring your case to the best possible conclusion. For a free consultation, call our office today at (410) 694-7291.
Types of Federal Crimes in Maryland
Most crimes are charged in state court if they occur entirely within state borders. The federal court system takes on far fewer cases than state court systems. Typically, federal courts only charge crimes that occurred across state lines, occurred on federal lands, or involve a federal issue, such as terrorism against the United States.
For example, common charges brought by the federal government include those against large-scale drug operations running through multiple states, multi-state Ponzi schemes or mail fraud schemes, or organized crime-related offenses. If you commit a crime while in a national park or on other federal property, any such crime would be charged federally rather than through the states. If you commit a crime against a federal agent, such as killing or assaulting a member of the FBI, the case will be tried in the federal court system.
For crimes such as murder and assault that implicate federal issues, you can be charged in both federal and state court for the same offense. Under the doctrine of “dual sovereignty,” both courts systems are separate and have the right to bring independent charges without running afoul of the Double Jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, even if the state decides not to pursue a case or drops your charges, there is still a chance the federal government will come after you.
How the Federal Court System Works in Maryland
Sometimes, federal crimes are referred to the U.S. attorneys by state or local law enforcement agencies who have made an arrest but feel the case is better suited for the federal courts. Typically, though, federal crimes are initially investigated by federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), or the Secret Service. For federal misdemeanor crimes, a signed complaint by a law enforcement officer is sufficient for charges against you to be filed. For federal felony charges, all cases must go through the grand jury.
The U.S. federal court system is comprised of three levels: the district courts, where cases are brought and tried, the circuit courts, which function as appellate courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court where final appeals can be brought. In Maryland, there is a single district court for the entire state, known as the District Court for the State of Maryland. If charges are filed against you federally in Maryland, this is where your case will be dealt with.
As noted above, for felonies, the charges must first be brought before a grand jury. The grand jury is comprised of 16-23 citizens who view the evidence and witnesses the prosecutor has complied and decide whether there is enough there for an indictment to be issued. They do not decide guilt or innocence. If the grand jury chooses to indict you, you will be arraigned and asked to plead guilty or not guilty of your charges. An experienced Maryland federal crimes defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of Randolph Rice will likely advise you to plead not guilty at this point so they have time to collect evidence and work out a deal with the prosecutor.
If a deal cannot be worked out, your case will proceed to trial. In federal court, you are entitled to a trial by jury, and the jury must reach a unanimous verdict for you to be convicted of the crime. If the jury does indeed vote to convict, there will be a sentencing hearing where the judge imposes penalties.
Penalties for Federal Crimes in Maryland
The penalties for federal crimes will vary depending on the crime you are charged with. However, it is generally true that the penalties for federal crimes are more severe than those imposed for state crimes. Federal judges follow the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which are set by the Federal Sentencing Commission and contain severe mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes.
Furthermore, the federal courts have fewer cases and thus will have more time and resources to focus on your case. They may be less likely to make a deal and get the case settled and out of their hair. At the Law Offices of Randolph Rice, our skilled federal crimes defense lawyers understand the difference between negotiating with local prosecutors and a U.S. attorney and have years of experience reaching successful deals for our clients.
If You Have Been Charged with a Federal Crime, Get in Contact with Our Maryland Lawyers Today
Federal crimes are extremely serious. The federal government has a massive amount of resources to devote to prosecuting your case. They are also selective in what cases they take on, meaning if they choose to charge you, they are going to take it seriously. You need an experienced Maryland federal crimes defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of Randolph Rice on your side to guide you through this process, fight for your rights in court, and tell your side of the story. We have years of experience working within the federal court system to bring all types of criminal matters to a successful resolution for our clients. For a free consultation, call us today at (410) 694-7291.