Fight a Federal Crimes Charge in Pinellas County
St. Petersburg Federal Defense Lawyer
A federal charge has the potential to utterly ruin an accused person's life. Federal sentencing guidelines are often much more draconian than state guidelines, particularly when the accused person has prior criminal convictions. If the charge involves firearms, controlled substances, or child pornography, minimum mandatory sentences may also apply.
If you have been arrested on a federal charge, or think you might be, it is imperative that you contact a St. Petersburg federal crime defense lawyer who is admitted to practice in federal court. At The Law Office of Timothy Hessinger we represent clients facing all types of federal charges, including firearms offenses, drug offenses, sexually motivated offenses, and crimes of violence. In both state and federal court, and where necessary, we utilize the services of some of St. Petersburg's most recognized experts in their respective fields, including forensic analysts, accountants, private investigators, and drug treatment providers. Our attorney works tirelessly with one goal in mind: obtaining the best possible results for our clients.
Initial Proceedings in Federal Court
After being arrested, an accused person is brought before a magistrate for an initial appearance where he or she is informed of their basic constitutional rights and advised of their pending charges. The Judge can release the person on his or own recognizance or upon the issuance of an unsecured appearance bond. There are certain types of offenses, however, that carry a rebuttable presumption in favor of detention. These typically include crimes of violence, certain types of sex offenses, and certain offenses involving controlled substances or firearms.
Under some circumstances, the accused person may be entitled to a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the government may call the case agent or other witnesses to the stand to testify about the investigation. Because depositions are typically not permitted in federal court, this may be the accused person's only opportunity to question government witnesses under oath and to obtain written statements or reports that the witness generated as part of the investigation.
After formal charges are filed, an arraignment will be scheduled. An accused cannot be brought to trial within 30 days of the arraignment but must be brought to trial within 70 days. The accused person may, however waive his or right to a speedy trial and seek a continuance in order to prepare for trial or to negotiate a plea with the government.
One of the most common pre-trial motions that are filed in both state and federal court are motions to suppress. A motion to suppress is typically filed where there is a good faith basis to believe that evidence against the accused, including the accused's own statement, was unlawfully obtained by law enforcement. Other motions that can be filed include motions to dismiss, motions in limine and, where appropriate, motions to compel certain types of discovery. A St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyer admitted to practice in federal court can advise you about the merits of a defensive motion in your case.
In some cases, a negotiated plea with the government may be in the client's best interests. A plea agreement is negotiated in lieu of entering an open plea (where there is no agreement as to what the sentence will be) or going to trial. As part of a plea agreement, the government may agree to drop one or more counts in exchange for the plea. In most instances, the government will, however, require that the accused person waive his or her right to a direct appeal, although the accused person may still file an appeal to collaterally attack the judgment and sentence.
Sentencing Guidelines in Federal Court
As indicated above, federal sentencing guidelines are often more punitive than state guidelines, particularly when the accused has prior criminal convictions. Under the federal guidelines system, an accused person's score typically increases where there are certain factual circumstances present. For example, a person charged with distributing child pornography would be subject to an increase in their minimum guideline score if he or she used a computer or if the images were "masochistic".
In federal court the sentencing guidelines are "advisory" and therefore, federal court judges typically have more latitude than state court judges to impose a sentence that this less the guideline range, where the judge determines that a departure is warranted.
Federal Minimum Mandatory Sentencing
Certain types of federal offenses carry minimum mandatory sentencing requirements. These offenses typically involve firearms, controlled substances, and child pornography. There are two ways to receive a sentence that is less than the minimum mandatory in federal court: substantial assistance, and "Safety Valve". Substantial assistance involves working with the government to resolve other matters. The government must file a motion to confer jurisdiction on the court to impose a sentence that is less than the proscribed minimum mandatory. This motion can be filed either before or after sentencing but if filed afterwards, there is a 364 day time limit.
Safety Valve applies to drug cases and allows the court to impose a sentence less than the proscribed minimum mandatory where certain criteria are met, including the accused person having little or no prior criminal record and playing a very limited role in the commission of the offense.
Sentencing Enhancements in Federal Court
There are four major sentencing enhancements in the federal court system. These include Career Offender, Armed Career Criminal, Statutory Drug Enhancements, and Three Strikes Legislation.
To qualify for the Career Offender enhancement, the accused person must be at least 18 years old at the commission of the offense, the offense must be either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense, and the accused must have at least two prior convictions for a controlled substance offense or a crime of violence. The accused is automatically scored at a level six on the federal sentencing guidelines, which is the highest level, and the base offense level is increased based on the statutory maximum.
The Armed Career Criminal enhancement applies to those who are charged with possession of a firearm and have three prior convictions for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both. The prior offenses must have been committed on different occasions. The statutory minimum is fifteen years and the maximum is life.
Statutory drug enhancements apply depending on the type and amount of the controlled substance involved and increase the maximum term of imprisonment if the accused has a prior conviction.
Under the federal three strikes statute, an accused person is subject to a mandatory life sentence if convicted of a "serious felony" and has either two or more prior "serious violent felony" convictions or one or more prior "serious violent felony" convictions and one or more "serious drug offense" convictions.
Federal sentencing issues can be very complicated. If you are facing a charge in federal court, it is imperative that you contact a St. Petersburg area criminal defense attorney who is admitted to practice in federal court to discuss your case.