WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT A FEDERAL CASE
WHAT IS A FEDERAL CASE? You are charged with a federal crime. A federal crime is either a crime that violates a law passed by Congress and applies to the whole country, or a crime that happened on federal property or Indian land. There are significant differences between federal court and state court proceedings. Some of those differences will be highlighted below.
BAIL. If you are arrested for a federal crime, you will NOT have bail automatically set. You may be released at your first court appearance or the Judge will schedule a detention hearing to take place a few days later. At that hearing the judge will decide whether to release you or keep you in jail (detain). If you are detained, you will probably be housed at the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, MN.
TIMING. Federal cases usually take a lot longer than state cases to complete, especially if a case is complicated or has many defendants. You do NOT have to “demand Speedy” like you do in MN state courts because you are automatically entitled to a speedy trial. Your lawyer can ask for extra time for preparation, investigation, motions, etc., if necessary. Discuss this with your attorney.
“Discovery” is the word used to describe the evidence that the government has against you. The rules that require the government to provide this evidence to your attorney vary greatly from federal to state court. Federal law does not require the federal prosecutor to provide as much discovery as a state prosecutor is required to provide.
PLEA BARGAINS. In federal court, judges are not involved in plea negotiations. A plea bargain is a deal between you and the prosecutor; you agree to plead guilty, and the prosecutor agrees to dismiss a charge or recommend something you want at sentencing. If there is a deal, the judge will not approve it ahead of time, and may not even know about it in advance. In most cases, the judge does not have to follow the deal. If the judge does not follow the deal, you are usually NOT allowed to withdraw your plea. Discuss this with your attorney.
SENTENCING. Federal sentences are very different from state sentences, even for the same conduct. Congress decides maximum and sometimes minimum sentences for federal crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences in federal court are mandatory. Also, federal judges must consider a book of complicated advisory rules called the Federal Sentencing Guidelines before deciding the sentence. Your attorney will explain how these Guidelines apply to your case.
Serving a sentence is different in federal custody, also. There is no parole. Good time credit can be earned for sentences over 1 year. However, it is not the same generous 1/3 credit you receive for Minnesota sentences. If you are sentenced to federal prison, you will serve at least 85% of your sentence. There is no good time credit for sentences of one year or less.
STAGES OF A FEDERAL CASE: These are the possible stages of a federal criminal case:
1. Initial appearance and arraignment
2. Detention hearing
3. Discovery and investigation
5. Plea negotiations and change of plea
8. Violation of probation or supervised release
9. Direct Appeals and other post-conviction relief
(See Outline of a Federal Case)