Most criminal offenses are prosecuted on the state level, but there are some cases where the federal government may investigate and prosecute you.
According to some estimates, there are roughly 5,000 potential criminal offenses in the United States Code. While many federal criminal laws are often coextensive with South Carolina laws (for example, there are both federal and state drug crime charges), federal penalties are often tougher. Federal prosecutors know exactly what they are doing, but so do we.
If you learn that you are being investigated by federal law enforcement, you have every reason to act in defense of your rights. You need immediate legal representation, both during the investigation and after charges may be filed.
Your Columbia criminal defense lawyer needs to have specific experience with and knowledge of the federal criminal justice system. Contact the attorneys at Shealey Law Firm for a free initial consultation.
When Certain Offenses Become Potential Federal Crimes
There are various reasons why federal law enforcement would take jurisdiction over your case, including:
- There are aggravating factors that increase the severity of the crime
- The conduct violated a federal law
- The defendant is alleged to have had intent to commit the crime
- Some cases that involve complex finances, or a money trail, may be better suited to the federal government’s resources
- The alleged crime occurred on federal property, crossed state lines or involved multiple states, or was against the federal government
You have an immense amount of risk when the federal government begins to investigate. The government has various tools at its disposal in an investigation.
How Federal Criminal Investigations Are Conducted
The Assistant United States attorney may launch an investigation on their own, or after a referral from law enforcement or another federal agency.
The federal government has numerous investigative agencies that may begin the process, including the:
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
- Drug Enforcement Agency
- Department of Homeland Security
For example, if the IRS believes that you committed criminal tax fraud, they would hand the case over to the AUSA, who would take over the investigation. If the FBI is investigating you, they may complete and conclude the investigation and then make their presentation to the AUSA, who would determine whether to indict you.
The federal agencies can begin work on their own, or in conjunction with a prosecutor. They can collect evidence on their own through things like surveillance, subpoenas and wiretaps. Agents can also seek to interview you. Speaking to an agent may be necessary, but it is fraught with danger.
There are some cases when an investigation target is not charged for an underlying offense, but they are charged with alleged crimes in connection with the investigation, such as false statements in connection with the investigation or obstruction of justice. Not only can you be charged with a separate crime, but you could also receive a higher sentence for the underlying charge when there has been obstruction of justice. It is crucial that you contact an attorney as soon as you learn that you are being investigated.
How the Prosecutor May File Criminal Charges
Based on the results of the investigation, there are three ways that the AUSA could initiate federal criminal charges:
- Grand jury indictment: A grand jury that was convened to hear the case (and potentially other cases) could recommend an indictment to the prosecutor
- Complaint: A complaint is an initial step that would allow the government to detain the defendant, although it must be replaced by an indictment before the case can proceed and go to trial
- Information: The prosecutor may file an indictment that does not involve or require a grand jury proceeding (although prosecutors sometimes opt for a grand jury to be more thorough and leave less doubt)
Penalties for Federal Criminal Convictions
Federal sentences work somewhat differently than punishment under South Carolina law. On the state level, offenses are assigned certain categories, and they have sentencing ranges at the judge’s discretion. For federal cases, the individual statute will specify the maximum jail sentence for each offense. If you have been convicted of more than one count, the judge would decide whether the sentences would be serviced consecutively or concurrently.
Then, a judge would likely apply the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (the Guidelines used to be mandatory but are now advisory after a Supreme Court decision). Some federal crimes (such as sex offenses have mandatory minimum sentences).
Here is a brief overview of how the Sentencing Guidelines could work in a case:
- Each offense carries a base level, depending on the seriousness of the offenses
- Each offense has specific characteristics that could increase or decrease the base offense level (for example, using a firearm in a robbery would lead to a tougher sentence)
- The judge can apply adjustments based on your specific situation that could increase or decrease the sentence
- The judge can increase or reduce the sentence based on acceptance of responsibility
- A prior criminal history could lead to a greater sentence
The judge has some discretion in how they apply the Guidelines, and your attorney would make your own case before the judge holds a sentencing hearing.
Reach Out to a Columbia Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
You should never attempt to navigate the federal criminal justice system on your own. Law enforcement is very well-funded, and they are known to cover all contingencies before they indict anyone. Then, they threaten stiff penalties in an attempt to get you to plead guilty.
Your legal rights are on the line, and you need a lawyer to protect them. The aggressive attorneys at the Shealey Law Firm are here for you when everything is on the line. We offer free consultations at all times. To speak to us, you can fill out an online contact form, or you can call us at 803-590-3917.