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Federal Criminal Defense

Federal Criminal Defense

Federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges. If you’re facing federal charges, you should know what these differences are. You should hire a lawyer who knows what the differences are too. Douglas P. Earl, Esquire has represented people facing serious charges successfully. Sometimes a case may originate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a Unites States Postal Inspector, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Homeland Security. If you’d like to talk to a lawyer with experience in federal court, call us at (215) 627-5970.

There are different parts of a federal criminal case:

Federal Investigations – once you are aware of a federal investigation it is important that you are prepared. Douglas P. Earl, Esquire has met with the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspectors, DEA agents, and agents from Homeland Security on behalf of targets of investigations. He always protects the interests of his clients.

Grand Jury Target Letters – Although most clients enter the federal criminal justice system as a result of having been charged in a complaint or an indictment, an individual who has not yet been indicted, but has received a target letter indicating that he/she is either the “target” or subject of a grand jury investigation.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the district where the grand jury investigation is being conducted sends a letter, which typically includes the charges under consideration and advises the recipient to contact an attorney or, if he/she cannot afford one, to contact the Federal Defender Office.  The assigned Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”) signs the letter and includes his/her phone number.  Douglas P. Earl, Esquire has represented people who find themselves in this difficult position.  He will protect your interests and do everything possible to navigate your way for you.

Charging by Information versus by Indictment – Having counsel at the pre-indictment level can be to your advantage. In the rare case, it may be possible to present enough evidence and/or equities to preclude an indictment.  If the government has sufficient evidence you may consider admitting the behavior under investigation.  You may wish to offer to plead to certain charges in an information in order to bypass the traditional indictment.

Pre-Charge Plea Agreements – Such negotiated dispositions should be distinguished from situations in which a defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere to fewer than all counts of an information or indictment in the absence of any agreement with the government.

Representing the Cooperating Defendant in Federal Court – Representation of cooperating witnesses remains one of the most significant and critical differences between state and federal court practice. Due to the draconian sentence a defendant would otherwise receive under the so called “advisory” sentencing guidelines and/or the statutory mandatory minimum sentences, a large number of clients choose to cooperate with the authorities. This avenue is particularly useful for low-level defendants in multi-defendant drug and fraud cases who are exposed to sentencing guideline recommendations that over-represent their culpability in the case. Departure motions based on cooperation agreements provide the most effective mechanism to obtain a sentence below the range mandated by the United States Sentencing Guidelines and/or any applicable statutory mandatory minimum sentence, and are the sole means of securing a downward departure from statutory mandatory minimum sentences

Initiating and Declining Charges— What is the Substantial Federal Interest?
In determining whether charges should be initiated or declined the prosecutor must consider:
Federal law enforcement priorities;
The nature and seriousness of the offense;
The deterrent effect of prosecution;
The person’s culpability in connection with the offense;
The person’s history with respect to criminal activity;
The person’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of others; and
The probable sentence or other consequences if the person is convicted.

Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrant or Summons Upon Complaint –  Typically, agents arrest individuals as a result of a complaint and an accompanying arrest warrant.  Alternatively, an individual may be arrested based on an indictment and warrant. Shortly after an individual is arrested, he/she is brought before the duty magistrate judge for his/her initial appearance. Occasionally, the individual is served with a summons to appear for the initial appearance.

Cases taken over by the Federal Government from the State System – In select cases, the U.S. Attorney’s Office assumes jurisdiction over a pending state case and prosecutes that case in federal court. Cases most often assumed by the federal government involve individuals with prior felony drug or firearm convictions who are charged in a case. Because of their prior convictions, in all likelihood these individuals are exposed to more severe penalties in federal court than in the state system.  Additionally, pursuant to the federal Bail Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3141, pretrial detention is likely to be sought by the government.

Initial Appearance – Initial appearances take place before the United States Magistrate Judge shortly after an arrest. A  pretrial detention hearing in federal court is much like a bail hearing in state court. It’s a hearing at which the court determines whether to detain the defendant without bail.  The prosecution must bring a motion to initiate a detention hearing. These hearings—typically held at the first court appearance—are reserved for certain kinds of cases, including:

  • crimes of violence
  • offenses carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison or death
  • terrorism or drug offenses that have a maximum prison term of at least 10 years
  • felony charges for defendants who have two or more convictions for the crimes mentioned above (or their state-court equivalents), and
  • felonies involving minor victims, dangerous weapons (including firearms), or failure to register as a sex offender. (18 U.S.C.A. § 3142.)

A detention hearing is also required if there is a serious risk that the accused will flee or interfere with the judicial process in any way, including by intimidating witnesses or jurors. (Id.)

Deciding Factors for Release
The defendant has a right to an attorney at a detention hearing. The defense is entitled to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence.
In deciding whether release is appropriate, the court considers whether there are any conditions (such as a particular bail amount or monitoring by the government) that will ensure that the defendant, if released from custody, will show up for court in the future. The judge will also consider whether the defendant’s release will compromise the safety of any particular people or the community at large.

Detention hearings are critical proceedings in the federal system, because if the defendant is detained, he/she will more than likely remain in custody until trial, curtailing his/her freedom and making it more difficult to prepare a defense. Detention hearings  must be conducted within three days of the defendant’s arrest on federal charges unless the defense requests a continuance. A continuance of up to five days from the time of arrest may be sought.

A person can appeal to the United States District Court Judge from a decision by the United States Magistrate order of Pre-Trial Detention.

Mr. Earl has been successful both with Unite States Magistrates and United States District Court judges in obtaining release from federal detention.

Can you Get a Bond?
There are a lot of considerations to look at when requesting a federal bond. The statute requires that you show that you are not a flight risk or danger to the community. there are also ways to present conditions that might give a judge reason to believe you will comply with a bond such as house arrest or electronic monitoring.

Pretrial release determines if you are a flight risk or a danger to the community. Drug crimes present a rebuttable presumption that you are a danger to the community under 18 USC 3142(f)(1). This is not state court anymore.   Douglas P. Earl, Esquire has fought for and obtained the release of many clients.


Discovery is to fully prepare your case.  The prosecution must turn over certain materials to the defendant in all criminal cases under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  According to the rule laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland, a prosecutor may not refuse a request by the defendant for evidence that is favorable to him and is material either to guilt or to punishment.

Exculpatory evidence does not have to directly show that the defendant is innocent. It may simply weaken the prosecution’s case. One example would be material that casts doubt on a witness’ credibility. This material is called “impeachment evidence.”

The Trial –  At the arraignment, the court usually sets a trial date. While in most cases, this date is flexible, in others, it is a firm date and adjournments will only be granted for compelling reasons.  Be aware that lengthy continuances are rarely granted.  First there is jury selection.  then there are opening statements. Douglas P. Earl, Esquire is a fierce advocate for his client.  The Government presents its case first through witnesses and documents.  The Assistant United States Attorney and the lead agent from the government agency which investigated you sit at the prosecution table.  The defense presents its witnesses and documents.  Then there are closing arguments.  The judge then tells the jury the law in your case.  Then the jury deliberates.  Douglas P. Earl, Esquire will be right at your side and fighting for you.

Federal Prosecutors Are Different

Federal prosecutors are called Assistant United States Attorneys. They tend to have fewer cases than state prosecutors and spend more time working on the cases they bring. If you are in federal court a federal prosecutor has already decided that your case is one that he or she is giving attention to.

In state court, often the police decide who to charge and a state prosecutor only sees it shortly before court. That’s not what normally happens in federal court. More and more, federal prosecutors work with federal law enforcement agents as cases are developed.

Federal Judges
There are two kinds of federal judges that will be involved in any federal felony. First, there are United States Magistrate Judges. A magistrate judge will likely be the first judge you appear in front of after you are arrested on federal charges. A federal magistrate judge may also hear some motions in your case which most importantly is whether you are detained or not. A defendant may always appeal the decision of a United States Magistrate Judge to a United States District Court Judge.

The second kind of judge is a United States District Judge. This is the judge who will preside over your case until its conclusion. The judge will decide bail or pre-trial detention appeals, pre-trial motions, preside over the trial, and sentences defendants found guilty.

How Sentence Is Imposed Is Different – Federal sentencing is based on the federal sentencing guidelines, and a host of federal laws that govern how a sentenced is to be imposed in federal court. These are technical areas of the law that are tremendously complex.

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