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When a Crime May Be Charged as a Federal Offense

Criminal conduct is typically illegal under both federal and state law, although you cannot be charged with both. You must be charged either under North Carolina’s law or federal law for one alleged crime. In most situations, if you are accused of criminal conduct within North Carolina, you will face state-level charges. However, certain factors will lead to being charged with a federal crime, such as:

  • You violated a federal statute.
  • You allegedly committed the crime on federal property, such as within a federal building or national park.
  • You allegedly committed a state crime on federal property, such as a military base or national park.
  • Your alleged criminal activity crossed state lines.
  • You were investigated and arrested by a federal agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
  • You were arrested based on information provided by a federal informant during a federal investigation.

Whether you are charged with a state or federal crime may be up to prosecutorial discretion. Once you know you are under investigation, contact federal attorneys in Charlotte, NC right away. You want to be prepared if you face federal charges.

Common Federal Charges

At Randall & Stump, PLLC, we highly experienced in the federal system and can represent you against charges such as:

  • Racketeering/RICO : In general, racketeering involves interference with commerce using violence or threats, including extortion and robbery, and other crimes, such as money laundering (18 U.S. Code §1951-1960). The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (18 U.S. Code §1961-1968) is how federal authorities charge many individuals involved in organized crime, including but not limited to criminal conduct related to drugs, weapons, human trafficking, and the collection of unlawful debt. RICO encompasses dozens of crimes and specifically allows leaders of criminal organizations to be charged for conduct they ordered other people to perform. For every count of violating RICO, you can be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
  • Conspiracy: Under 18 U.S. Code §371, you may be charged with conspiracy if federal authorities gain evidence that you and at least one other person planned and took at least one overt act toward completing a specific federal crime. If convicted of conspiracy, you can be fined and imprisoned for up to five years. Except, if the attempted crime was a misdemeanor, then the maximum penalty is that of the attempted misdemeanor offense.
  • Federal Drug Crimes : Drug manufacturing, possessing, selling, and trafficking are all illegal under federal law (21 U.S. Code §841-865). In most situations, simple possession and sales are charged under state law. However, when a drug offense includes large quantities of controlled substances, trafficking allegations, or the drugs crossed state lines, then it is more likely to be charged as a federal crime. Federal drug charges are harshly penalized, which is why you should have a federal criminal defense attorney represent you.
  • Federal DWI : If you are driving your personal vehicle on a military base, in a national park, or on other federal property and you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .08 percent, you can be charged with DUI/DWI under various federal laws. This is a misdemeanor offense for which you can be penalized with fines, months in prison, and years of probation. Also, if you are arrested for operating a common carrier under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance, you can be imprisoned for up to 15 years (18 U.S. Code §342). A common carrier includes vehicles involved in commerce by carrying passengers or goods on the ground, in the air, or across the water. Common carriers can be buses, trucks, ships, planes, and more.
  • Federal Gun Crimes : In addition to the typical North Carolina firearm offenses, there are two main federal firearm charges: Felon in possession of a firearm and/or Ammunition (18 U.S. Code § 922(g)) and Possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or drug trafficking (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)). These federal gun charges are aggressively pursued, and convictions could result in significant mandatory minimum prison sentences and in some circumstances up to life imprisonment.
  • Possession of Child Pornography : Child pornography charges may be federal when the materials are transported across state lines or if they originate outside of the United States. Federal penalties can be much harsher than state fines and prison time, so it’s important to work with a federal sex crimes lawyer to handle these charges from the beginning.

The Federal Court Process

The federal court process is vastly different from North Carolina’s criminal justice process. For federal prosecutors to charge you with a felony offense, they must call a grand jury. A grand jury is made up of individuals who review the evidence against you and determine whether you should be charged. Grand juries consist of between 12 and 23 jurors and are conducted in secret. If the jurors believe there is probable cause that you committed the crime, they will hand down a federal indictment. The indictment contains the specific charges against you.

Following the indictment, you may be arrested or asked to turn yourself in. The next step is your initial appearance, which may be the first time you have appeared in front of a judge. The judge will read the charges against you and remind you of certain rights. If the federal government is moving for pre-trial detention or if your case involves charges with a rebuttable presumption that you be detained pre-trial, the Court will then schedule a detention hearing so that each side can argue their position, for or against detention.

The next step in the criminal court process is discovery. During this time, your legal team and the prosecution request information and evidence from one another or share any evidence they are required to. During or after discovery, your federal lawyer and the prosecutors may begin negotiations for a plea agreement. Whether a deal is the right course of action depends on the circumstances. Always speak with a federal defense attorney before agreeing to a plea.

If you do not accept a plea, then the case moves forward into preliminary hearings and pre-trial motions. Common pre-trial motions are about whether certain evidence should be admitted into court or not. Your lawyers may attempt to limit certain evidence against you as part of their overall defense strategy.

Next comes your trial, which may last days or weeks. Each side will be given the opportunity to present opening arguments, call and cross-examine witnesses, and submit evidence. Once both sides have presented their evidence and completed their closing arguments, then the jury, which is made up of 6 to 12 people, deliberates. The jury must be unanimous to find you not guilty or guilty.

If you are found guilty, then the next step is your sentencing. The judge in your case will determine the appropriate sentence based on the minimum and maximum penalties outlined by federal law. If convicted, your federal crimes lawyer will strive to minimize the consequences of a conviction, including seeking a more lenient sentence than the federal government may ask for.