Facing federal criminal charges can be a daunting and complex experience, especially when the charges are brought in a district with its own unique legal landscape. The Southern District of Texas is broken up into seven different divisions including the Houston Division and Galveston Division.
When you face federal criminal charges in Texas, the initial decisions you make will affect how successful your defense will be. The federal prosecutor has a lot of resources and will use them to obtain a plea agreement or a guilty verdict. What you say and do matters when arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint, warrant, or indictment. Words you say or how you behave or react can be used against you, and if convicted, you can anticipate harsher penalties than if charged at the state level – so your freedom is at more risk when charged with a federal crime.
Understanding Federal Crimes in the Southern District of Texas
The Southern District of Texas is one of the busiest federal districts in the nation, with Houston serving as a major hub. Federal offenses in this district can range from drug trafficking, white-collar crimes, immigration violations, to offenses involving national security. Being charged with a federal crime often means dealing with stringent federal sentencing guidelines and facing a well-resourced prosecution.
Steps in the Federal Criminal Process
Federal offenses, whether in Texas or another state, are dealt with under federal prosecution guidelines, which differ from state procedures. Here are some key steps in the federal criminal process.
Investigation, Charging, and Initial Hearing
Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigate and make arrests in relation to federal crimes.
The investigating agency provides the evidence to a federal prosecutor to review and decide whether to charge the defendant. If the defendant faces a felony crime, the prosecutor must present the case to a grand jury, which decides whether there is enough evidence to charge the defendant.
After a defendant is charged, there is an initial hearing before a magistrate judge. Importantly, at the initial hearing, the judge decides whether to grant the defendant bail. The judge also asks the defendant to indicate whether they are pleading guilty or not guilty to the charge.
In the lead-up to a trial for a defendant who is pleading not guilty, the prosecution and defense prepare their cases. This involves speaking to witnesses who can give evidence during the trial, examining the evidence, and coming up with a trial strategy.
There is also a process of discovery, where the prosecution must give the defense copies of any evidence they will use during the trial, as well as any evidence that may help the defendant's case. This duty to disclose is ongoing, including during the trial.
Negotiating with Federal Prosecutors & Plea bargaining
Some defendants plead guilty to a charge without going to trial. For example, when there is a strong case against them, they plead guilty in exchange for some concession. In these cases, the prosecution and defense may enter into a plea bargain, where the prosecution agrees not to seek a harsher sentence given the defendant's guilty plea. Given the potential severity of federal penalties, negotiation skills are paramount. An experienced criminal defense attorney will engage with federal prosecutors to explore plea deals or reduced charges, seeking the most favorable outcome for their client.
If a defendant pleads not guilty to a charge, the matter may go to a preliminary hearing for the prosecutor to demonstrate that there is enough evidence to charge them.
Preliminary hearings are not mandatory and a defendant can choose to waive their right to one.
After hearing the evidence, the judge decides whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. If there is, the matter goes to trial. If not, the charges are dismissed.
Before a trial, the prosecution and defense typically file a range of pre-trial motions, for example, Motions to Dismiss the charges or Motions to Suppress certain evidence. These pre-trial hearings are designed to narrow down the issues for trial so the case runs more smoothly.
In the event that a case goes to trial, being represented by competent, effective, and experienced criminal defense attorney is essential. They will present the defense's case, cross-examine witnesses, and challenge the prosecution's evidence, striving to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. At a trial, the case is presented to a twelve-person jury. Using witnesses and other evidence, the prosecutor tries to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense lawyer puts forward the defendant's case by challenging the prosecution's evidence, calling defense witnesses, and presenting defense evidence.
Once the jury has heard all of the evidence, they deliberate until they reach a unanimous verdict as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
If a defendant has been found guilty, they will then be sentenced. Their defense attorney may also file a range of post-trial motions, like a Motion for a New Trial or a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct a Sentence.
If a defendant believes an error led to their wrongful conviction or their sentence is too harsh, they can file an appeal, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court.
Common Federal Crimes Charged in Texas
Federal crimes include a broad range of offenses. Some of the more common ones charged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) are listed below.
- Child Sex Crimes (18 U.S. Code §§ 2251, 2252)
- Drug Crimes, like Drug trafficking (21 U.S. Code § 841), Drug importation (21 U.S. Code § 952), or Drug manufacturing (21 U.S. Code § 841)
- Fraud, like Securities Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1348), Bank Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1344), Insurance Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1033), or Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud (18 U.S. Code § 1343)
- Sexual Assault (10 U.S. Code § 920)
- Weapons charges (18 U.S.C.A. § 922, § 924)
- White collar crimes, like Money Laundering (18 U.S. Code §§ 1956, 1957), Tax Evasion (26 U.S. Code § 7201), Theft of Intellectual Property (18 U.S. Code §§ 1831, 1832, 2319, 2320), Identity theft (18 U.S. Code §§ 1028, 1028A), or Bribery of public officials (18 U.S. Code § 201)
For any one of these crimes, you face significant consequences. We are talking about years in federal prison and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in fines and fees. If you've been charged with a federal crime, you should speak with a federal crimes defense lawyer in Texas as soon as possible to understand your rights and the criminal process.
The Importance of Experienced Representation
Facing federal charges demands legal representation by an effective criminal defense attorney. Whether you are under investigation or have already been charged with a federal crime, you need a criminal defense lawyer who has experience in defending individuals charged with federal offenses.
Federal cases are often meticulously investigated before charges are filed, making a proactive and strategic defense crucial. A skilled attorney will thoroughly review the evidence, challenge the legality of searches and seizures, and identify potential constitutional violations that could impact the case.
A criminal defense attorney must challenge the prosecution's allegations. This requires a deep understanding of the criminal system and the law. Prosecutors will be experienced and will have any and all resources available to them to prosecute you. You need to understand the process so that you can navigate the system efficiently, timely, and adequately. Federal crimes can also be very complicated. There will be a number of elements that must be satisfied, and you need to know each so that you are prepared to successfully challenge the government when they work to prove its case.
The ability to present a case or argue mitigation during sentencing in federal court is critical. If a case goes to trial in federal court as opposed to accepting a plea deal – which may or may not be in your best interests – you must know the process. A mistake can adversely affect your case. Plus, you have to persuade a judge and/or jury that you are not guilty, and that takes strategy. Even though you do not have the burden to prove yourself innocent beyond a reasonable doubt, you must be ready to challenge the prosecutor's arguments and evidence that you are guilty.
Contact a Federal Crimes Defense Lawyer in Houston and Galveston Today
When facing federal charges in the Southern District of Texas, the choice of a criminal defense attorney is pivotal. The right attorney can make a substantial difference in the outcome of the case, ensuring that the accused receives a fair and just legal process. If you or someone you know is confronting federal criminal charges in this jurisdiction, seeking the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is not just a choice; it's a necessity. Their expertise can be the key to navigating the complexities of federal law and working towards a favorable resolution in the face of serious charges.
At Law Office of Anthony Ray Smith, PLLC, we know the stakes in any criminal case are high, but they are particularly so when it involves federal crimes. The Law Office is consistent in our endeavor to hold the prosecutor accountable in proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt and we are just as consistent in proving our clients' innocence or fighting to obtain the best possible outcome – whether that's a dismissal, plea deal, or acquittal. Contact Anthony at 713-242-8917 to schedule a free consultation and learn more.
The stakes could not be higher in the case of a federal crime. You need to be prepared and must have a thorough understanding of the system if there is any chance of success. The Department of Justice does not charge federal crimes unless they believe they can win the case, so the odds are already stacked against you.
To fight the federal charges against you, contact Law Office of Anthony Ray Smith, PLLC to speak to our federal crimes lawyer in Texas. You can use the online form or call us at 713-242-8917 to schedule a free consultation.