Below you will find links to useful resources including the Bureau of Prison's inmate locator, answers to frequently asked questions regarding the return of property and personal items and the timeline of a federal case. This information is intended to help guide family members and our clients at the various stages of a federal criminal case. After reviewing this page, you should have an understanding of how we defend cases and how you can assist us in the effective representation of our clients. Locating an Individual after Arrest The first place to start in locating an individual after an arrest is the US Marshal's office (www.usmarshals.gov). The US Marshals maintain several locations in our district. Their offices can confirm that an individual was indeed arrested, inform you as to the next court date and also provide information on where or she is being detained. Individuals detained at a United States Bureau of Prisons facility may often be located using the inmate locator tool at www.bop.gov/inmateloc. Obtaining Personal Property Taken during an Arrest Arresting officers often take our clients' personal property into their possession when executing an arrest order. This property can include vehicles, jewelry, cash, telephones, computers, etc. Sometimes, the government intends to make this property part of their case and hold it as evidence. Other times, they merely take custody of it to secure the property during an arrest. When the property is not held as evidence, an arresting agency (i.e., DEA, ICE, FBI) often will release the property to clients or family members who appear to claim it within 30 days of the arrest. Other times, the agency will initiate formal proceedings to seize the property. Our office can help in determining whether the property is being held as evidence or not. We do not, however, have the resources to retrieve and store property on behalf of clients. This part of a criminal case is where a family member's assistance is often appreciated. Timeline of a Federal Criminal Case (Click on a topic to expand)
Arrest and Initial Appearance
An individual comes into the federal system in one of two ways: after the issuance of a complaint or an indictment. Under most circumstances a warrant for an individual's arrest follows the filing of these documents. After the person is arrested, the government must bring him or her before a magistrate judge for an initial appearance. At this appearance, the Court will appoint a lawyer if the client is unable to afford one.
Probable Cause and Detention Hearings
A person arrested upon the issuance of a complaint has the right to two important hearings: a probable cause hearing and a detention hearing. However, a person arrested upon the issuance of an indictment only has the right to a detention hearing immediately following his or her arrest. Courts find probable cause when there is a reasonable belief that the person arrested or named in a complaint has committed an offense. This standard is much lower than the one that applies at trial for a conviction—which is beyond all reasonable doubt. However, contesting probable cause sometimes can result in the dismissal of the government's complaint. A dismissal of the government's complaint avoids the need for a detention hearing and may result in an individual's release from custody. The government, however, can still seek an indictment from a grand jury on the same charge. An indictment, which is a criminal charge issued after a presentation to a grand jury composed by members of the community, automatically meets the standard for probable cause. If the challenge to probable cause is unsuccessful or the government has obtained an indictment, then the Court will hold a detention hearing to determine whether an individual is a flight risk or danger to the community. At this stage, it is crucial to show that an individual has long standing ties to the community, a home, steady employment, and sometimes, assets that he or she can surrender in the event of non-appearance. Generally, this hearing takes place no later than five days following an individual's arrest. It is important that we receive assistance from family members to coordinate witnesses and obtain all relevant documents. Success at the detention hearing means that the Court grants an individual's release with bond conditions.
Arraignment on an Indictment
A person named in an indictment has the right to have those charges read to him or her in open court. If the government moved to arrest an individual after the issuance of an indictment, the arraignment (a hearing for the reading of the indictment) will take place at the same time or shortly before the individual's detention hearing. For individuals arrested based on a complaint, the arraignment hearing will take place generally within a month of their arrest. An individual is also entitled to have any new (superseding) indictments read to him or her in open court. In that event, an individual may appear in court more than once for the formal reading of charges the government has sought against them.
Discovery and Pre-Trial Motions Stage
In the discovery stage of a case, an individual has the opportunity to request and review the government's evidence. An individual may also employ, or have the court appoint, investigators and experts during this time to assist in preparing a defense against the government's charges. Our office maintains a team of investigators that specialize in the areas of drug and violent crimes, financial crimes, and computer crimes, who assist our attorneys during discovery. Upon reviewing all discovery and the government's charges, we may then file motions that contest legal deficiencies in the indictment, violations of due process throughout the course of the government's investigation, and challenges to the manner in which the government collected its evidence (i.e., motions to suppress evidence). This is a crucial step in a criminal case and often takes a lot of time.
Plea Negotiations and Guidelines Counseling
After reviewing the government's evidence and discussing possible defenses, a client may decide that it is in his or her best interest to enter a plea of guilty. Individuals may decide to plea for a variety of reasons—spanning the belief that they are guilty of the crime charged to a rational decision that based on the government's evidence there exists a high likelihood that they will be found guilty at trial. In the federal system, a person who pleads guilty can often expect a much shorter sentence than a person who proceeds to trial and loses at trial. Pleading guilty opens the possibility for negotiations with the government, which can sometimes results in lesser charges. We rely on the United States Sentencing Guidelines to assess the value of any plea deals and to predict the sentencing outcomes after admitting guilt or being found guilty at trial. We cannot guarantee any particular results—in the federal system the ultimate sentencing decision belongs to the federal judge. Careful analysis of the facts in the case and the United States Sentencing Guidelines, however, alert us to possible sentencing enhancements that a client may face if he or she pleads or is found guilty of a particular charge.
Change of Plea Hearing
A person who decides to plead guilty must appear in court for a change of plea hearing. At this hearing, a district or magistrate judge reviews the statues of conviction and penalty ranges that a person may face upon a finding of guilty. The judge also assures that there is a factual basis for the plea of guilty. Finally, the judge reviews any plea agreements between the defendant and the government at that time. After conducting this hearing it is common for the judge to defer accepting the plea of guilty until the Court has had sufficient opportunity to prepare and review a presentence report. If a client is on bond, the judge may order that he or she surrender to the court for arrest at the conclusion of the change of plea hearing. This decision depends on the nature of the charge to which a client pleads guilty.
Trial and Jury Verdicts
A person who opts not to plead guilty is entitled to a trial. This trial, generally, must take place within 70 days of the day that the indictment issues. Sometimes the Court allows a continuance of the trial date to allow a defendant and his or her attorney time to prepare a defense, conduct investigations, and locate witnesses. At trial, the government must present a case that supports a verdict of guilt. The jury can only vote guilty if it believes that the government has met its burden beyond all reasonable doubt. This burden is higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard that is employed during civil trials. It is a high burden that the government must meet. Our client has a right to be present during all aspects of his or her trial, to confront each of the witnesses testifying for the government through a process of "cross examination," and to challenge any evidence the government presents at trial. He or she also has an absolute right to remain silent during the trial proceedings. The decision not to speak on his or her behalf must have no bearing on the jury's final determination. Our clients, however, also have the right to testify on their own behalf if they so choose. The judge's role at trial is to make sure that the government and the defendant have a fair opportunity to present each side of their case. The judge cannot give any preference to anyone or anything but the Constitution of the United States, the rules of evidence, and the rules of criminal procedure. After hearing the evidence at trial, a jury may come to one of three outcomes: not guilty, guilty or no outcome. "Not guilty" means that the government has lost its case and cannot retry our client again for the same alleged offenses. This rule is known as double jeopardy. It is based in the United States constitution and provides individuals powerful protection against redundant prosecutions. "Guilty" means that the government has won its case, i.e., the jury believes that the government provedits case beyond all reasonable doubt. An individual, however, may appeal the jury's decision to a higher court. When members of the jury can reach neither a verdict of "guilty" nor "not guilty", then what is known as a "hung jury" results. The result is a mistrial-a partial victory for our client. This is only a partial victory because at some point in the future the government can retry its case before another jury.
The Presentence Report
In the time between the change of plea hearing or guilty verdict and sentencing, our client will have an interview with a United States Probation Officer. That officer works for the court. It is the US Probation officer's job to create a report for the sentencing judge so that he or she can make a proper determination of the United States Sentencing Guidelines that apply in the individual's case. These Guidelines provide a range within which the judge can sentence an individual that is presumptively reasonable. Often, here in our district, judges will sentence an individual between the recommended Guidelines range. We assist our clients in preparing for their meeting with US Probation and also attend the meeting so that they may ask questions and seek our advice during the interview. Once we receive and review the US Probation officer's presentence report with our client, we may sometimes contest the legal conclusions from certain facts that lead to a specific Guidelines range. Long before then, however, we prepare to counter the recommendation of the presentence report by soliciting the support of friends, family members, court records, school records, awards, and other materials that tend to show our clients in the most positive light. This dual process allows us to counter the Guidelines recommendation through objections to the presentence report and/or through a memorandum in support of a departure or variance from the Guidelines. After the court has received and reviewed objections to the presentence report and sentencing memorandums it will hold a sentencing hearing. At this hearing either the government or the defendant may present additional evidence to substantiate their objections to the presentence report or to rebut the other side's objections. Family members and people supporting the individual being sentenced may also be heard. Finally, any victims of the alleged offense must be heard at the sentencing hearing.
After the court has received and reviewed objections to the presentence report and sentencing memorandums in support of a reduced sentence, it will hold a sentencing hearing. At this hearing, either the government or the defendant may present additional evidence to substantiate their objections to the presentence report or to rebut the other side's objections. Family members and individuals supporting our client may also be heard.Judges often will hear from up to three individuals in support of our clients. Our client is then given the opportunity to speak directly on his or her behalf to the judge. Any victims of the alleged offense must then be heard. The judge then pronounces a sentence in open court.
An individual who obtained bond at a detention hearing and remained on bond following the change of plea hearing may nevertheless need to surrender at his or her sentencing hearing. In some cases, the sentencing judge may allow our clients to self-report to a prison. However, this option varies on a case-by-case basis.
Post-Conviction and Appeals
Following the issuance of a written judgment at a sentencing hearing, our clients have 14 days to file a notice of appeal. If a client has entered into a plea agreement with the US Government, he or she normally waives the right to an appeal save for very narrow circumstances. These circumstances include the ineffective assistance of counsel, an error in the mathematical computation of his or her sentence, or a sentence imposed in excess of the statutory maximum. Individuals who have not waived their right to appeal may proceed with their full rights of appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Our office has an appellate unit and lawyers devoted to the representation of clients at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. These lawyers often take the case over from the trial attorney after the filing of a notice of appeal. These lawyers will consult with the client on pertinent issues that may be raised on appeal, review the record, and write briefs for presentation to the appellate court. The appellate court may respond with a written order on the matters presented. In limited circumstances, it grants oral arguments before issuing an order. Clients who are in custody will not be present at oral arguments. However, family and friends are welcome to attend. Upon receiving the appellate court's order our office may, within 14 days, request a rehearing to clarify conflicts in Fifth Circuit Case law. We also may petition the United States Supreme Court for review.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims
Our office assists in these matters only upon a judge's order and appointment.