Areas of Law Covered:

Federal Criminal Law



• What are the elements of the crime?
• What is the conviction rate?

A federal crime or federal offense is an act that is made illegal by U.S. federal legislation. In the United States, criminal law and prosecution happen at both the federal and the state levels, accordingly, and a federal crime is one that is prosecuted under federal criminal law, and not under a state's criminal law. These parameters include many acts that would otherwise not be crimes or fall under state or local law.

Some crimes are listed in Title 18 of the United States Code, but others fall under other titles; for example:
- tax evasion and possession of weapons banned by the National Firearms Act are criminalized in Title 26 of the United States Code.

Moreover, numerous federal agencies have been granted powers to investigate federal offenses to include, but not limited to:

- the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)
- Drug Enforcement Agency,
- Federal Bureau of Investigations,
- (ICE) Immigrations and Customs Enforcement,
- (IRS) Internal Revenue Service,
- and the Secret Service.

In addition, mail fraud that crosses state lines or involves the (national) United States Postal Service is a federal offense. Other federal crimes include:

- kidnapping,
- bank robbery,
- tax evasion,
- counterfeiting,
- art theft from a museum,
- damaging or destroying public mailboxes,
- as well as immigration offenses.

In drug-related federal offenses, mandatory minimum sentences can be enforced. A mandatory minimum is a federally regulated minimum sentence for offenses of certain drugs offenses. Prosecution guidelines are established by both the 1. United States Attorney in each federal judicial district; and by 2. Preexisting laws that Congress has already passed & established.

There is no statute of limitations for federal crimes punishable by death, nor for certain federal crimes of terrorism, nor, for certain federal sex offenses.

Prosecution for most other federal crimes must begin within five years of the commitment of the offense.

There are exceptions. Some types of crimes are subject to a longer period of limitation; some circumstances suspend or extend the otherwise applicable period of limitation.

Arson, art theft, certain crimes against financial institutions and various immigration offenses all carry statutes of limitation longer than the five year standard.

Regardless of the applicable statute of limitations, the period may be extended or the running of the period suspended or tolled under a number of circumstances such as when the accused is a fugitive or when the case involves one or more of the following charges:

charges of child abuse,
bankruptcy,
wartime fraud against the government, or
DNA evidence.

Ordinarily, the statute of limitations begins to run as soon as the crime has been completed. Although the federal crime of conspiracy is complete when one of the plotters commits an affirmative act in its name, the period for conspiracies begins with the last affirmative act committed in furtherance of the scheme.

Other so-called continuing offenses include various possession crimes and some that impose continuing obligations to register or report. Statute of limitations related constitutional challenges arise most often under the Constitution’s ex post facto and due process clauses. The federal courts have long held that a statute of limitations may be enlarged retroactively as long as the previously applicable period of limitation has not expired. The Supreme Court recently confirmed that view; the ex post facto proscription precludes legislative revival of an expired period of limitation. Due process condemns pre-indictment delays even when permitted by the statute of limitations if the prosecution wrongfully caused the delay and the defendant’s defense suffered actual, substantial harm as a consequence.

If you or someone that you know iscontacted by federal authorities regarding a criminal investigation, one should most definitely determine is if the contact is either related to being a potential witness or as a suspect.

Next, one must determine what statements may be safely made so such authorities without falling into a trap; for example, being charged with lying to federal agents. A federal criminal defense attorney may serve to assess the nature and purpose of such an investigation. Moreover, a federal criminal defense attorney can be present during questioning, act as an intermediary and advise clients regarding the exercise of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. If appropriate, a federal criminal defense attorney may negotiate with the authorities for more favorable treatment. In some cases an attorney may also be able to secure a letter of declination, in which the U.S. attorney formally declines to prosecute a client in relation to a particular offense or investigation.

When a person receives a federal subpoena to testify before a grand jury, as with an investigation, it is not always apparent whether the person is being subpoenaed as a witness or as a potential target for indictment. As with an investigation, a federal criminal defense attorney can determine the likely purpose of the subpoena, advise on how to avoid potential traps when providing testimony, or when to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

The attorney may be able to work out a deal for immunity, or for use immunity (meaning that the testimony provided before the grand jury may not be used to advance a criminal prosecution against the witness), and in relation to the testimony.

Nonetheless, it is helpful during federal criminal proceedings to be represented by an attorney who is familiar with the federal rules of evidence, federal rules of criminal procedure, trial procedure, and the federal court system. The attorney should also be familiar with federal sentencing procedures, and with the recent Supreme Court rulings which affect sentencing.

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