Facing federal indictment is an extremely serious matter, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. Every decision you make from this point can impact how your case unfolds and its consequences on you.
If you or someone you love has received notification of a federal grand jury indictment, your first step should be to contact an attorney.
Your attorney should have a history of successfully defending cases like yours. This can be a very anxious and stressful time, but it’s important to not retain the first attorney you call. Interview a number of lawyers until you find one with a track record of success, who you feel can confidently defend your rights.
Once you have hired your attorney, they can closely examine the facts of your case and advise you on the best route forward. Typically in cases of a federal grand jury indictment, you have three options:
- Petition the court to dismiss the indictment
- Plead guilty
- Proceed to a jury trial
We’ll discuss more about those options below, but first, let’s take a step back to explain more about the indictment process.
What is a federal grand jury indictment?
The federal government typically investigates and prosecutes crimes that cross state lines, involve the internet, involve crimes against federal institutions (such as banks) or violate laws passed by congress.
The federal government has virtually infinite resources to investigate and pursue charges if it believes that someone has committed a crime. Agencies like the FBI, DEA and Secret Service can methodically investigate for months or even years, building a case against someone, and in specific circumstances, that evidence is then brought in front of a grand jury.
A grand jury is a panel of 16-23 citizens that will hear witness testimony in the case, as well as the evidence the agency has gathered. If the grand jury determines that it is likely that the person under investigation has committed a crime, it will issue an indictment.
A federal grand jury indictment is a notice given to someone that they are believed to have committed a federal crime. It includes basic information that includes the charges against them.
What are my options after a federal grand jury indictment?
Dismissing a federal indictment
When filing a motion for dismissal, the defendant essentially makes the argument that they should not have been charged at all. Either by a mistake in jurisdiction or a violation of the defendant’s Constitutional rights, the government erred in charging them with a crime.
Motions for dismissal are very common in a number of areas of the law, but we see in practice that most motions for dismissal typically fail when dealing with federal grand jury indictments. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: Almost all requests for dismissal argue that the government’s allegations are wrong.
Federal judges can’t simply overturn a case on this basis. It is not the judge’s responsibility to determine whether or not the government was correct in applying the charges. The system is built on the trust of the grand jury to hand down the indictment and the trial jury to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty.
That said, all cases are different and have their nuances. Speak with your attorney about whether or not this could be a productive option for you.
There is only one circumstance in which you should consider pleading guilty, and that is if, after carefully and thoroughly reviewing all of the facts of your case, your attorney sees no better route to take. This is especially important if you are a professional like an accountant or physician, this is especially important, because a federal guilty plea will cause you to lose your professional license.
Many attorneys will recommend pleading guilty simply because they are uncomfortable with preparing for trial. Do your best to weed these attorneys out in the interview phase.
If you decide to plead guilty, it’s important to remember that a pleading guilty is a negotiation and not a surrender. Depending on the facts of your case, pleading guilty can allow your attorney to negotiate a reduction in the number of charges against you, sentencing and other penalties (“plea bargain”).
Taking federal cases to trial
While federal agencies have deep resources and numerous tools to investigate and gather evidence against you, the elephant in the room is the simple fact that most Assistant United States Attorneys are young. They typically join the Justice Department after less than five years of private practice.
The federal government uses its extensive investigative powers and the possibility of harsh sentences to play the intimidation game, and it often wins. This is why so many federal cases end in guilty pleas.
Going to trial should always be your lawyer’s first option, and they should only remove it from the table if there is virtually no chance you’ll succeed. Preparing for a federal trial is very difficult. It is painstaking, time consuming and requires a skillset that few truly possess. When interviewing attorneys, find out if your attorney has the aggressive mindset and work ethic needed to take your case to trial. If it does go to trial, you’ll have the benefit of an expert in your corner who’ll do whatever it takes to preserve your Constitutionally guaranteed rights.
If your case is settled with a plea deal, your attorney’s initial signal that they are ready to go to trial will give you more leverage when it’s time to negotiate your penalty.
Hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney
Throughout this guide, we’ve stressed the importance of thoroughly vetting your attorney before you hire them. There are a number of highly skilled federal defense attorneys throughout California, each with strengths in different types of cases. Find the attorney that is skilled in your case area and can confidently represent you.
Robert M. Helfend is a federal defense attorney based in the Los Angeles area, serving federal clients throughout California and the United States. He has practiced since 1984, working to secure favorable judgments for thousands of clients in that time. He was recently honored by his peers with listings on SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Lead Counsel. He specializes in internet crimes, drug crimes and financial crimes in federal courts.
As we said above, every situation is different and different attorneys have different strengths, but the first step in finding out is a free evaluation of your case and the charges against you. Call today – 800-834-6434.