When Should You Hire a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
Being convicted of a federal crime is a serious offense and requires that you seek to hire a federal criminal defense attorney.
But when do you hire a federal criminal defense lawyer? Should you hire an attorney before you are formally charged with the crime, such as while the case is still under investigation, or should you wait until the trial is about to commence? In addition to these questions, there are questions of what charges necessitate hiring a federal criminal defense lawyer.
What is a Federal Crime?
To understand when to hire a federal criminal defense attorney, you first need to know what constitutes a federal crime. After all, if you have been charged with violating a state crime, there may not be a good reason to hire a federal attorney at all.
For the most part, criminal law is created by state legislatures and Congress. Laws created by state legislatures will vary from state to state. These are called state criminal laws, and a violation of a state criminal law is a matter between the accused and the state.
The U.S. Congress, however, defines what constitutes a federal crime. A federal crime is a crime that concerns the federal government. For example, assaulting a federal employee or damaging federal property is considered a federal crime.
If the crime you are accused of is a crime against the state, you will not need to hire a federal criminal defense attorney. If, however, you are accused of violating federal law or committing a crime involving a federal worker or federal property, then you will want to look into hiring a defense attorney who is knowledgeable about federal law.
Federal Felonies & Misdemeanors
In addition to dividing crimes by state and federal law, crimes are also divided into felonies and misdemeanors.
Felonies tend to be crimes that the government and society consider to be more severe. These crimes entail harsher penalties, specifically prison sentences of at least a year, hefty fines, or a combination of both.
Because punishments can be so severe, the stakes are fairly high when it comes to felony charges. That is why, if you are charged with a federal felony, the need for a federal criminal defense lawyer will be that much greater.
Conversely, misdemeanors are lesser crimes and thus have lesser penalties. Usually, misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in prison, smaller fines, or a combination of both. You may wish to hire a federal criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with a misdemeanor, but a criminal defense lawyer who handles all sorts of criminal defense cases-not just federal cases-may have the skills to represent you.
Some crimes can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor. For example, battery, which is when one person purposefully causes physical injury to another person, can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony battery occurs when the force used and the injuries caused are severe. Misdemeanor battery is usually charged when less force or minor injuries occur.
The Criminal Justice Process
The criminal justice process has a number of steps from the investigation to the trial. You have an opportunity to hire a federal criminal defense attorney at any point throughout the process.
The initial part of the process is the investigation. This is when witnesses are questioned, evidence is collected, and police officers make their observations. If you are a suspect who is under investigation, you may wish to retain an attorney. This is especially important if you are being questioned by authorities and want to ensure you avoid saying anything that may incriminate yourself.
The next phase of the process is the arrest and the preliminary hearing. This is when you are taken into custody by authorities and are formally charged in open court. This is also your opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. A criminal defense lawyer can advise you on a potential plea and its ramifications. If you are planning on negotiating with the prosecution, the party in charge of proving the charges, in what is called a plea bargain, you will want to retain a lawyer by this point. A plea bargain often entails having the accused admit guilt to a lesser crime for a lesser punishment.
Finally, if no plea bargain is reached, you will have to stand trial. At this point, you will need an attorney to represent you unless you choose to represent yourself. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. This appointed lawyer is called a public defender.
Choosing a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
When choosing a federal criminal defense lawyer, you will want to go with someone who has experience handling cases similar to yours. If you have been charged with federal tax evasion, you wont want to hire a lawyer who only has experience with federal battery.
You also will need to have confidence in your attorney. After all, this is the person who is defending you from potentially serving years in prison. Prior to hiring the lawyer, schedule a consultation to ensure you trust the lawyer to adequately represent you.