Here is what you need to know if you are accused of a federal crime.

“If I’m facing federal charges, what is the process in Michigan?” If you are accused of a federal felony or misdemeanor, it is essential that you have the best defense attorney you can get.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys - Group

The Federal Case Process – Facing Federal Charges

The Complaint

If someone faces federal charges, the process usually starts with a sworn statement (called a complaint) presented to a U.S. Magistrate Judge. The United States Attorney’s Office may issue the complaint before or after you have been arrested. The magistrate determines whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that you committed it. If you have not already been arrested, a warrant for your arrest will be issued if the judge finds the government established probable cause. Hiring an attorney as quickly as possible can make all the difference if you are under federal investigation and have not yet been charged.

If you do not already have a lawyer, having one at this stage in the proceedings is critical. You do not want to appear at any court hearing or meeting with law enforcement without a highly experienced federal defense lawyer by your side to protect you all the way!

The First Appearance

After your arrest, the officer or agent making the arrest must take you before the nearest available magistrate judge without unnecessary delay. This may mean that you will spend some time in the county jail where you are arrested and will be transported by the U.S. Marshal’s service to be before the magistrate in a few days or so. Once you appear before the magistrate, they will inform you of the charges, your right to counsel, and your right to request the appointment of an attorney if you qualify financially. You will not be required to answer questions about the charges against you at this hearing.

The Detention Hearing

You will be entitled to a detention hearing (bail hearing). That is usually held within five (5) days of your first appearance at the United States District Court. The prosecution and the defense may request a later hearing date under certain circumstances. At this hearing, the magistrate will determine whether you will be released before trial on bond or pretrial release. If you are released, you may be required to deposit a cash bail or purchase a bond to secure your release. If necessary, your attorney can recommend how to post bond when you face federal criminal charges. Your release conditions may also stipulate that you must provide urine or breath samples, surrender your passport, and comply with restrictions on your travel or residence. The court may set many other conditions. Some forms of release require you to wear electronic or satellite (GPS) tracking equipment. This will be in the form of an ankle bracelet or transmitter. Other bond or pretrial release conditions might require checking in daily with a probation officer. Most people charged in federal court are released on an unsecured bond that does not require any money to be posted. An experienced federal defense lawyer gives you the best chance of not being detained.

The Indictment

The prosecutor will present your case to a grand jury at some point, either before your arrest or within a few weeks of arrest. Neither you nor your attorney usually will be present. Suppose the grand jury decides there is enough evidence against you to justify charging you with a crime. In that case, the grand jury will issue a formal charging document, called an indictment, stating the exact federal charge you will be facing. In some cases, it is appropriate to waive your right to indictment and permit the government to file an Information against you. An Information is also a formal charging document. It has the same effect as an indictment. The filing of an Information bypasses the grand jury process. If a Waiver of Indictment is an option in your case, your attorney will discuss it with you.

Attorney - Michigan - Awards

Initial Court Hearing for Someone Facing Federal Charges

The Arraignment

You will be scheduled for an arraignment on an indictment before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. This occurs in Detroit, Michigan, in the federal courthouse. At the arraignment, the magistrate must read the federal charges you face in open court. At that time, you must enter a guilty or not guilty plea to the charges against you. You will be advised of your rights. If the case is a felony charge and your arraignment is before a U.S. Magistrate Judge, you will usually be required to enter a plea of not guilty even if you have already entered a plea agreement. No evidence will be taken at this time. Shortly after this, the court will set dates for motions to be filed, for evidence to be disclosed, and a date for your case to be tried. If you face federal charges, your federal defense attorney will advise you of your rights and options.

Getting Ready

From this point on, your attorney will gather the facts and consider the law necessary to advise you on the prosecutor’s case’s strength. While the client is under federal investigation, the attorney will determine your defenses, the possible sentence you may face, and whether the attorney feels a trial or a plea bargain better serves your interests. Each case is different. Complicated cases take more time to investigate, evaluate, and prepare for trial than simple cases. Your attorney will do whatever is necessary to prepare your case as quickly as possible. Remember: a complete investigation may take several months. Taking the time required to prepare your case properly may save you years in prison if you face federal charges. The main point is that your Michigan criminal defense attorney can best advise you only after thoroughly investigating your case and determining what level of punishment the government is seeking. If you face federal charges, it is best to employ an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

Investigating Your Case

Preparation is the key to the best outcome for someone facing federal charges. Your attorney may have the assistance of an investigator, a paralegal, or both in preparing your case. The investigator or paralegal often needs to meet with you to help prepare your defense. What you tell your lawyer’s investigator will be confidential, as if you were talking with your attorney. Your attorney, investigator, and paralegal need to know the truth. If we know the truth, we can avoid being surprised at trial. You and your family can help while you are under federal investigation by giving us the names and addresses of witnesses who can testify for you and accurately explain what happened. Do not contact witnesses who will be called to testify against you. Do not get anyone to give a written statement without the direction of your lawyer.

Facing Federal Charges After Arraignment but Before Trial


Federal law provides limited access to the government’s evidence against you if you face federal charges. In some cases, the prosecutor may provide more information than the law requires and make the entire discovery file for review; however, this is uncommon. In such cases, your attorney can review all evidence, testimony, and investigative reports relevant to your case that are in the government’s possession. In other cases, the prosecutor may limit access only to those materials that, under the law, must be made available to the defense. In either event, only your attorney will have direct access to the government’s discovery file. Your attorney will work closely with you to ensure you understand the evidence in the government’s file. The government and the defense must strictly adhere to the rules of discovery. Your attorney will discuss these rules with you as your case progresses. The attorney will also communicate with the prosecutor to understand the government’s view of your case. In some cases, evidence obtained by a defense attorney while the case was under federal investigation or after charges were filed might be turned over to the government to obtain a favorable plea bargain, lenient sentence, or dismissal of charges.


Your attorney may file motions at different points, which may be heard by the court before or at trial. Never file motions or other pleadings independently. Only a skilled, experienced lawyer will understand and follow the proper procedures. Motions cannot be filed pre-charge while you are under investigation. If you have ideas about motions that might be filed in your case, you should consult with your attorney whether those particular motions would benefit your defense.

Trial or Plead Guilty?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees your right to a trial by jury for anyone facing federal charges. Any decision to plead guilty, accept a plea agreement, waive trial by jury, or any other decision to give up any constitutional right is exclusively yours to make. A great federal defense attorney will fully advise you about your options and the benefits and risks of each option. Your attorney will give you their recommendation about the other options that are in your best interest. However, the final decision is yours, and yours alone, to make. Your attorney will review any proposed plea agreements with you. People who plead guilty do not necessarily receive the same sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines compared with those found guilty of the same crime at trial. The evidence a criminal defense attorney collected and preserved while the case was under federal investigation can make the difference between a plea and an acquittal at trial.

Trial, Acquittal, and Sentencing in Federal Court


The law provides that if you face federal charges, you will be tried no earlier than 30 days or later than 70 days after your first federal court appearance unless the court grants exceptions. However, many things can extend the 70-day speedy trial limit. Adjournments to give the lawyers time to prepare are extremely common. A jury of 12 people will try your case unless you waive a jury trial and request a bench trial. First, the prospective jurors are selected and sworn. Each side makes an opening statement to describe the case and each lawyer’s view of the evidence. After the statements, the prosecutor (Assistant U.S. Attorney) presents the government’s witnesses and evidence. You have the right to have your attorney cross-examine every government witness. The government has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In many cases, the information obtained by an attorney while the client was under federal investigation proves critical in presenting a formidable defense.


Hopefully, if you go to trial, you will be acquitted, and sentencing will not be an issue. The judge will schedule a sentencing hearing if you have been found guilty. Before the hearing, the court will order the U.S. Probation Office to prepare a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR). Sentencing guidelines, which are law, will be used to determine your sentence. Under the guidelines, the severity of the offense and the extent of your criminal history will largely dictate the sentence you receive. The information the lawyer obtained while the client was under federal investigation can be used when arguing for a lenient sentence.

In some cases, your criminal history alone may be the critical factor. Federal law mandates severe sentences for persons with certain types of prior convictions. As you can see, your criminal record may play a significant role in your decision to plead guilty or go to trial. Your sentence also will depend, in part, on whether you decide to plead guilty or go to trial. The decision to plead guilty or go to trial is critical. You must discuss the guidelines’ scoring with your attorney to ensure your decision is fully informed.

Types of Sentences

In federal court, most people found guilty are jailed as part of their sentence. While probation is an option in some cases, probation alone is rare. In many instances, probation is not an option the judge can consider. The harshest sentence you can receive upon conviction (aside from the death penalty that applies to certain federal crimes) will be an order sentencing you to confinement in a federal prison controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.). You could be placed in any institution in the U.S. While the B.O.P. tries to put most people as close to their home state as possible, many factors are involved in assigning the place of confinement. Such factors include the offense of conviction, your prior record, and the length of the sentence. Generally, in the Eastern District of Michigan, if you are convicted or plead guilty and sentenced to prison, you will be permitted to turn yourself into B.O.P. (rather than being taken into custody). If your federal defense lawyer obtained reduced charges while the matter was under federal investigation, the resulting sentence will likely be much less than it could have been.


If you are convicted, even if you were convicted by plea, you can appeal your case unless you waived your right to appeal under a plea agreement. A notice of appeal must be filed within 10 days after judgment (your sentencing order) is entered, or you lose that right. An appeal is an opportunity to tell the appellate court (the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals) exactly how the judge did not follow the law or what rights you were denied. Typically, an appeal will take six (6) months to a year to be decided. While your case is on appeal, it is unlikely that you will be released. You do not have an automatic right to bail while appealing. The 10-day time period allowed for filing a notice of appeal is critical. You must inform your attorney immediately after sentencing if you wish to appeal.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Michigan’s Premier Federal Defense Law Firm

If you’ve been accused of a federal criminal offense, such as a felony or misdemeanor, please call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. for a free consultation and confidential case evaluation. If you are under federal investigation or facing federal charges in court, time is of the essence when you are searching for the best federal defense lawyer for you. The criminal lawyers with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. are dedicated to the passionate, fearless, and tireless defense of those charged with federal offenses. Call us for a free consultation. We will find a way to help you. Most importantly, we are not afraid to win!

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

Contact Us - Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys