Federal crimes are grouped into four classifications depending on their possible maximum penalties: felonies (1 year or more), misdemeanors (1 year or less), infractions (5 days or less), and petty offenses (maximum fines of $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations).
Felonies and misdemeanors are further classified into classes. They are as follows:
- Class A — Life imprisonment or death
- Class B — 25 years or more
- Class C — 10–25 years
- Class D — 5–10 years
- Class E — 1–5 years
- Class A — 6 mos.–1 year
- Class B — 30 days–6 months
- Class C — 5 days–30 days
The classifications are used primarily in determining additional consequences of sentencing, such as the allowable term of supervised release and whether charges may be brought by indictment or information.
Felonies must be brought by indictment unless defendant waives and misdemeanors may be charged by indictment, information or complaint. All felony offenses must be tried before a district court judge. Misdemeanors may be tried before a magistrate judge when the defendant consents in writing.
Federal Prosecutors – The United States Attorney’s Office
Increasingly, federal prosecutors work with local law enforcement officials, either directly or through joint federal and state task forces; however, the main federal investigative agencies for the United States Attorney’s Office are the: Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Secret Service, Customs & Border Protection Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (“ATF”), Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), and U.S. Postal Inspectors.
Federal Criminal Investigations
Criminal investigations are initiated in one of two ways: (1) law enforcement officials may suspect a crime is being committed and begin an investigation that may lead to felony or misdemeanor charges or (2) law enforcement officials may respond to the commission of a crime, arrest their suspects, and then conduct a full investigation of the case. Federal cases generally arise from investigations and rarely result spontaneously from crime in progress.
Law enforcement officials must comply with both constitutional limitations on their powers, like the Fourth Amendment for example that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and proper procedures under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution govern when and how officers can interrogate potential suspects who are in custody. Any evidence seized by the government in violation of the law may be subject to suppression. If the evidence in a case is suppressed, it could lead to a dismissal of all charges.
Arrest and the Start of Prosecution
In those cases where a suspect is arrested without a warrant, the officers must file a complaint in the United States District Court. A magistrate judge decides whether there is sufficient probable cause to hold the suspect until formal charges can be filed. If the defendant remains in custody, prosecutors have 14 days to conduct a preliminary examination. At a preliminary examination, the Assistant United States Attorney would have to introduce sufficient evidence to hold the defendant for trial. In practice, preliminary examinations are rarely held in federal court and, in the alternative, prosecutors will opt to obtain an indictment from a grand jury before the 14-day period expires. Every defendant charged with a felony in federal court is entitled to an indictment. If a defendant is only charged with a misdemeanor, the prosecutors may file an information with the court and an indictment is not necessary. If a defendant makes bail and is out of custody following his arrest, prosecutors have 21 days to conduct a preliminary hearing or obtain a grand jury indictment. In some cases, especially those involving lengthy investigations or multiple defendants, prosecutors will obtain an indictment before a defendant is arrested or file a complaint with a request for an arrest warrant. In many of these cases, the indictment or complaint will remain sealed or secret until the arrest is made.
What do I do if I am charged in federal court?
In the unfortunate event you or a loved one becomes the target of a federal investigation, a complaint or an indictment, it is critical that you obtain experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. Things happen quickly in investigations and in court and any delay can cause missed opportunities to gain an advantage for the defendant. If you or a loved one is being investigated for or prosecuted on felony or misdemeanor charges in the United States District Court in Detroit or elsewhere in Michigan, call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. right away at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form.