The Federal Criminal Process, Explained

The Basic Process

The process by which a person is charged and prosecuted for a Federal offense can differ based on the type of case, its jurisdiction, the agency involved with the investigation, the Assistant United States Attorney handling the prosecution, and even the Federal judge presiding over the case. However, there are certain aspects of an investigation and prosecution that are generally common in nature.

In many cases, the target of an investigation by a Federal agency may not know that he/she is being investigated at all. When the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the particular Federal jurisdiction believes there is probable cause to arrest the person under investigation, a warrant for that person’s arrest will be issued. The person will be arrested; however, that person is entitled to a Detention Hearing (normally presided over by a United States Magistrate Judge) to determine if that person can be freed from custody during the pendency of the Federal case.

The presumption is that the person should be freed; however, if the person has immigration issues (i.e., is “undocumented”) or is deemed by the court to be a threat to society, the person will remain in custody until the case is resolved. The Law Office of Drew Prisner fights to convince the presiding judge to release its clients so that we can fight each client’s case “from the outside”…in other words, while the client sleeps in his/her own bed and lives in his/her own home.  

What Happens Next, and How an Attorney Can Help

Federal cases tend to proceed more quickly than State cases. If the person arrested has not been indicted prior to his/her arrest, he/she MUST be indicted within 30 days of the arrest. Additionally, the person is entitled to a trial within 70 days of that person’s arrest or indictment, whichever is later. These requirements are per the Federal Speedy Trial Act, and they are rights that the person’s attorney must protect. The Law Office of Drew Prisner protects ALL of its clients’ rights. 

Fighting a Federal case takes a strong commitment to the client and disciplined, thorough investigation of the allegations that the Federal government is making against the person charged with a Federal crime. The Law Office of Drew Prisner will investigate every aspect of the case, from the individual(s) allegedly involved in the matter to the elements of the offense(s) as enumerated under the Federal code.

The United States Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial to anyone accused of a Federal crime. If the client wishes to avail him/herself of such right, then The Law Office of Drew Prisner will be right there to fight for the client in the Federal courtroom.

Client Options

In some cases, the client may wish to obtain a plea bargain agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In this scenario, the client will agree to plead “guilty” to a charge (in many cases, to a lesser/reduced charge or to a single count of a multi-count indictment) in exchange for a lesser punishment than prescribed under the particular section of the Federal code that applies to the client’s case.

Moreover, in certain circumstances, the client may decide that it is in his/her best interest to cooperate with the Federal government in hopes of obtaining a 5.K.1 agreement, which can lead to a lesser sentence as a result of the client’s “Substantial Assistance to Authorities.” If this is the path that the client wishes to take, The Law Office of Drew Prisner will fight to get the least amount of punishment possible given the particular facts of the client’s case. 

If a client receives a plea bargain, the client will be “re-arraigned” by the Federal court. At this proceeding, the client will enter a plea, and a sentencing date will be set by the court. Prior to sentencing, the Federal Probation Department will conduct an interview with the client to examine many aspects of the client’s life and personal history.

The Law Office of Drew Prisner attends this interview to ensure that each client’s rights are protected and that the correct information is gathered in an unbiased, fair manner. This information will be contained in a Pre-sentence Report that will be given to the Federal judge to assist him/her in determining the proper punishment at the sentencing hearing.

In many cases, the sentencing hearing can be months after the re-arraignment. At the Law Office of Drew Prisner, Drew will file objections to any incorrect or irrelevant information contained in the report, and he will request downward departures from the governing SG where appropriate so as to ensure the client receives the minimal sentence possible under the client’s particular set of facts and circumstances.  


If, after a jury trial, the client is convicted, he/she has the right to file an appeal. A Notice of Appeal must be filed within 14 days of the judgment. In certain circumstances, a client can appeal after a plea of guilty. However, this is only possible if the client did not waive the right to appeal in the plea bargain agreement. The Law Office of Drew Prisner will file appeals for its clients where appropriate and necessary. 

Supervised Release

In addition to any period of time, a person convicted of a Federal crime must serve in Federal prison, he/she may have to serve a period of Supervised Release upon being released from incarceration. This Supervised Released is determined by the Federal judge at sentencing, and it consists of a period of time during which the recently-released person is supervised by the Federal Probation Department. If the person supervised under Supervised Release violates any term or condition of said supervision, he/she could be sent back to prison. The Law Office of Drew Prisner will fight at sentencing to avoid or minimize the assessment of Supervised Release where appropriate.

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