If you’ve been charged with a federal crime, you know it’s serious and that you may be looking at a long, drawn out legal process. What you may not be aware of is what happens in the first few days following your arrest. To help you understand the process and know what you can expect, our federal criminal defense attorneys for the Eastern District of North Carolina are providing an in-depth look at how you may be charged and what you can expect during the initial appearance – your first court appearance.
How You Will Be Charged with a Federal Crime
If you are arrested by a local police department, you are arrested, charged, and await an initial bond hearing. Federal cases work a bit differently in that, depending on the case, you may be arrested by federal investigators, your case transferred from the state to a US attorney, or you may be summoned to the initial hearing via a target letter.
Receiving a Target Letter
A target letter is often used in white collar cases, such as mail fraud or embezzlement in which the US attorney believes a crime has been committed and has enough evidence for a grand jury to charge you. You’ll receive a letter in the mail that provides the following information:
- Your status as a target in a federal grand jury investigation;
- The crimes you are suspected of committing;
- Your right to assert your 5th Amendment rights (the right to avoid self-incrimination);
- How to obtain counsel through the Federal Public Defender’s Office;
There will most likely be additional information outlining what the ramifications of not attending will be as well as a warning to avoid destroying information or evidence.
When the US Prosecutor Takes a Case from the State
In addition to crimes that cross state lines and occur on federal property, nearly all state or local crimes can be made into federal cases. This means that you may be charged by the state or even have charges dropped only to have a US attorney come after you. Charges most often “cherry-picked” by federal prosecutors include:
- Gun charges (particularly in matters related to Homeland Security)
- Drug trafficking
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
What Happens During the Initial Appearance
After you have received a target letter or been charged with a crime, you will stand before a federal judge for your initial appearance. If you receive a target letter, the date of this appearance will be listed, but if you are arrested and in jail waiting, your initial appearance will be scheduled within 48 hours.
This initial appearance is an extremely important step in the process and will generally focus on three main points.
- The Government will read the charges against you, the defendant, and what the total penalty or maximum possible punishment is.
- The Judge will ask you about your representation, if you plan to represent yourself, hire an attorney, or seek the appointment of the Federal Public Defender’s Office.
- The Judge will then ask the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) if the Government seeks to keep you, the defendant, in custody while the case is resolved. If the Government is moving to have you held in custody, then a detention hearing will be scheduled and be held within the week. At the detention hearing the Judge will determine whether you will be released or held in jail until your case is concluded.
Since the detention hearing is usually only a few days away, it is extremely important that you move quickly to have an attorney present with you to ensure you will be released.
Schedule a Consultation with Our Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys in North Carolina
The experienced attorneys at Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh are federal criminal defense attorneys for the Eastern District of North Carolina (Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greenville, and Wilmington) and Central District of North Carolina (Durham, Winston-Salem, and Greensboro). If you receive a target letter from the US Attorney’s office or you’ve been charged with a federal crime, reach out to us today for a free consultation. Contact us 24 hours a day at 919-887-8040 or fill out our contact form to get started.