Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Crimes


During a free initial consultation, the experienced federal criminal defense attorneys at the Bellwoar Kelly, LLP in southeastern Pennsylvania often answer basic questions about the federal criminal system. Below are some of the commonly asked questions about what to expect when facing federal charges.

How Is Federal Criminal Defense Different?

The federal justice system is exceedingly complex. There are different procedural rules, different statutes, different investigative agencies, different bodies of applicable case law. Federal judges, prosecutors and law enforcement offices are extremely good at what they do. As a result, federal court can be intimidating for the uninitiated.

It takes a high degree of skill and experience to navigate the federal courts. Many defense lawyers practice only in state court. If you’re facing federal charges, make sure you enlist a defense attorney with experience in the federal justice system.

Who Investigates Federal Crimes?

Generally federal agencies, such as the FBI or DEA, investigate federal crimes. If you are under investigation, seek legal counsel right away. Investigations often lead to an arrest.

What Is An Indictment?

An indictment is a formal accusation charging you with a crime. The federal criminal system uses an indictment to initiate criminal proceedings against you. However, there are situations (often for lesser charges based on probable cause) where a federal prosecutor will rely on a criminal complaint to formally begin a case against you.

What Are The Penalties For A Federal Crime?

Federal sentencing guidelines are used to determine appropriate sentencing lengths and fines. These guidelines establish a presumptive sentence based on the offense as well as your criminal history. Aggravating or mitigating factors may reduce or lengthen that sentence. Federal punishments tend to be harsher than state sanctions, and many serious offenses carry mandatory minimum prison terms.

Can I Get My Sentence Reduced For Helping In A Government Case?

Federal prosecutors have discretion to offer reduced charges and sentences if you provide substantial assistance with a case. Mitigating factors include the severity of your offense and the assistance you provide in the investigation or prosecution of another person. However, never talk to prosecutors or sign a deal without enlisting your own attorney. You might give up important rights (and bargaining leverage) by doing so.

What Are Some Of My Important Rights In Federal Court?

  • You have the right to legal representation.
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • If charged with a felony, you have the right to have your case presented to a grand jury.
  • You have the right to discover the evidence against you.
  • You have the right to testify and the right to refuse to testify.
  • You have the right to an appeal.

To learn more about your legal options when facing federal charges, please schedule a free consultation at our West Chester or Pottstown offices: call 610-314-7066 or 484-402-4500.