Why are Federal Criminal Offenses More Costly to Defend?

 Federal Criminal Offenses

You probably have at least a basic idea of how state criminal court works. You’ve seen the shows on TV, or at least the commercials. But if you’re like most people, the federal criminal justice system is a mystery.

No sweat – I’ve got you covered. At a basic level, federal crimes are much more complex to defend than state ones.

Here’s why:

1. Federal Prosecutors Have More Discretion to Choose Their Cases

At the state level, the police usually choose who to charge. Since the 1960s, America’s prison population has grown from 217,000 to 2.3 million because of tough-on-crime policies and the war on drugs. Prosecutors are literally overwhelmed with the number of cases they have to handle.

At the Federal level, prosecutors work more closely with the law enforcement agents during the investigation stages of the case. So they have more flexibility to choose strong cases they believe are worth prosecuting.

2. Federal Prosecutors Have More Time To Work on Their Cases

Also, because federal prosecutors typically have fewer cases, they have more time to prepare stronger arguments. So, criminal defense attorneys need to prepare more complex defenses.

By the time your case gets to court, the prosecuting Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) have already decided they’re going to pursue your case. In most situations, you’ve already been investigated for weeks, and likely months or years. At the state level, higher caseloads lead to prosecutors just starting to get familiar with the basics of your case prior to court.

3. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Play a Major Role

In Federal cases, the Court is required to consider what the punishment should be by calculating the Federal Sentencing Guidelines range.  There are no similar guidelines calculations in the State of Texas court system.

The guidelines use a combination of the type of offense, facts specifically unique to this particular offense, and the criminal history of the defendant to determine a range of punishment.  The Judge must consider this range, although it is advisory only. The Judge may assess a sentence higher or lower than the calculated range but must also justify such a decision.

Having an attorney to represent you that has experience with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and the affects that it will have on the outcome of your case can make a huge difference in what your sentence may be.

4. Federal Law Itself is More Complex than State Law

In the first place, federal prosecutors target larger, more complex criminal activity. Cases similar to state-level cases can include thousands of pages more in documentation and more hours of staff research at the federal level.  The extra time required to examine and look for potential problems with the evidence provided though the discovery process makes for much more work on the attorney’s part.

5. Federal Cases Carry More Severe Punishments

Simply put, federal statutes typically recommend harsher punishments than state statutes for similar crimes. Federal prosecutors also have less discretion than their state counterparts do in negotiating plea bargains due to the Sentencing Guidelines. And, almost every federal crime has additional punishment enhancements. Plus, crimes like child pornography have such intense social stigma that they carry severe punishments.

For the most part, parole is also unavailable to federal prisoners. The 1984 Sentencing Reform Act eliminated parole for all prisoners convicted on or after November 1, 1987. Just a few exceptions exist to that legislation.

That’s why federal criminal offenses are more costly to defend. Make sure you contact an experience federal criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a federal crime.