Federal Criminal Defense

Federal crimes carry serious penalties including expensive fines and long prison sentences. In addition, people charged with federal crimes often face civil forfeiture proceedings in federal court where the U.S. government seeks to take their property. For these reasons it is imperative that anyone charged with violating federal criminal law hire an experience federal criminal defense attorney.

Common federal criminal charges include drug possession and trafficking offenses, money laundering, possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a firearm in a restricted area, unauthorized access to a computer, and possession or distribution of illegal images.

At the Law Offices of Jason Trumpler we represent clients charged with crimes in federal and state courts throughout the state of Texas. With offices throughout the state of Texas, we are able to defend clients charged with serious crimes in any United States District Court throughout the state of Texas. If you are charged with a federal crime, contact the Law Offices of Jason Trumpler at (512) 359-3300.

Federal Criminal Law

In the United States, the federal government and the government of the individual states are considered “dual sovereigns.” This structure arises from the US Constitution which provides for a federal government possessing limited powers that is superimposed over the several states. Saying that the federal government is one of “limited” powers means that the federal government is only supposed to have the powers that are granted it by the United States Constitution.

Federal criminal offenses are defined in federal statutes. “In 1812 the Supreme Court held that there are no federal common-law crimes.” Wright, Law of Federal Courts § 21 (West 1994) (citing U.S. v. Hudson & Goodwin, 1812, 7 Cranch 32, 3 L.Ed. 259). Prof. Wright notes that the reasoning of these cases may have been at odds with the intent of Congress in enacting the Judiciary Act, but, in any event, it is now well-established in federal law that federal crimes must be defined by federal statutes. “Since federal criminal prosecution must, therefore, rest on an Act of Congress defining the crime, it is clear that all such cases 'arise under' the law of the United States within the meaning of the constitutional grant of jurisdiction. . . .” Id. Saying that these cases “arise under” the law of the United States means that the Federal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over these cases. Violations of federal criminal law must therefore be charged in federal court.

So in order to be charged with a federal crime, the government must allege that a person has broken a specific federal statute. The most common federal crimes involve federal drug charges , federal firearms charges , internet crimes , and crimes committed on federal government property.

Most federal crimes and the federal criminal procedures are set out in Title 18 of the United States Code. The crimes in Title 18 include assault, conspiracy, embezzlement and theft, extortion, fraud, gambling, homicide, kidnapping, and sexual abuse and pornography offenses. While Title 18 contains most of the federal criminal statutes, it is important to note that federal drug crimes, including possession and trafficking offenses, are codified in Title 21 of the United States Code.

Congress must have the power to act under the Constitution in order for an Act of Congress to be valid, including federal criminal laws. Some criminal laws are defined by the victim of the crime being a federal employee. It is well-established that Congress can make laws protecting federal employees under the Constitution. Other crimes are federal matters because they are committed on federal property. Aside from these situations, many federal crimes rely on Congress's power under the Commerce Clause, these include wire and mail fraud. One crime in particular, treason, is defined in the Constitution itself. In fact, the US Constitution not only defines the crime of treason, it imposes a requirement of two witnesses to the same act of treason before one can be convicted. The Founders feared government abuses, and they set out to make sure that federal criminal prosecutions were not undertaken lightly. For this reason they also addressed criminal venue issues in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution .

An important difference between federal and state criminal charges in Texas is that federal judges and prosecutors are much more limited in the sentences they may impose. This is because of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines . While recent Supreme Court case law has made clear that the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory and not mandatory, federal judges and prosecutors are much more limited in their sentencing options – even as part of a plea bargain – than their state counterparts. In addition to issues under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, many federal offenses contain statutory minimum sentences. These mandatory minimum sentences are often very long and in some cases the statute requires that the sentences be served consecutively, meaning that the statutory minimum sentence is “tacked on” and a person convicted of such an offense only begins serving statutory minimum sentence upon completion of any other sentences imposed for other criminal convictions. Statutory minimum sentences are often involved in federal drug charges and federal firearms crimes.

Federal Statutory Minimum Sentences

A number of federal criminal charges carry statutory minimum sentences. These are sentences that are imposed by Congress in the statutes themselves. Normally, state or federal crimes carry a punishment range or a maximum punishment. In a typical federal criminal case, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines would then suggest a punishment range based on various factors, some of which would cause an upward departure (longer sentence) and some that might cause a downward departure (shorter sentence). For some crimes, Congress has prescribed a minimum sentence that must be imposed on persons convicted of the offense. In some cases, Congress has not only prescribed a mandatory minimum sentence, it has also directed that the statutory minimum sentence must be served “consecutively,” meaning that the statutory minimum sentence only begins being served after other sentences have been served.

For example, 18 U.S.C. 924(c) provides for minimum sentences to be served consecutively where a defendant “uses or carries” a firearm during a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense.

Under federal law, once someone has been convicted of an offense carrying a statutory minimum sentence, there are only two circumstances where the federal court is allowed to impose a sentence below the statutory minimum: (1) where the government files a motion seeking a reduced sentence based on the defendant's “substantial assistance” to the government (under 18 U.S.C. 3553(e))or (2) for younger defendants convicted of certain drug crimes (the so-called “safety valve” provision of 18 U.S.C. 3553(f)).

Federal Court

Article I of the Constitution created the United States Congress and defined the powers of Congress. Article II of the Constitution created the office of President of the United States and the executive branch. Article III creates the Supreme Court and empowers the Congress to create federal courts “inferior” to the Supreme Court. One of the first acts of the first Congress was to enact the Judiciary Act of 1789 which for the first time created federal district (trial) courts and lower courts of appeals. As of 2012 there are 94 United States District Courts, including four district courts in Texas. There are 13 judicial circuit courts (the federal courts of appeal); all of the states and U.S. territories are assigned to a particular circuit court, for example Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana are in the Fifth Circuit, while California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada are in the Ninth Circuit.

The courts of the United States are courts of limited jurisdiction defined by the Constitution (the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court) and Acts of Congress (the jurisdiction of the “inferior” federal courts). State courts, on the other hand, are generally courts of general jurisdiction where jurisdiction is presumed to exist absent a showing to the contrary. In federal court, an affirmative showing that federal jurisdiction exists is necessary. The two main sources of federal jurisdiction are claims that “arise under” federal law or causes involving citizens of different states (known as “diversity jurisdiction”). Federal criminal charges necessarily arise from federal criminal statutes thus “arise under” federal law.

Venue in Federal Criminal Cases

A protection for criminal accuseds that the Founders considered critical was the requirement that a criminal defendant be tried “in the Vicinage,” an antiquated word for neighborhood or surrounding area. The Founders felt so strongly about this issue that one of the indictments against the King in the Declaration of Independence “transporting us beyond the Seas for pretended offenses” and the Sixth Amendment requires that “[i]n al criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law. . . .” Rule 18 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure sets out the specific venue provisions, but in general a person charged with a federal crime must be prosecuted in the district where the crime was alleged to have been committed. Special rules apply where an offense is alleged to have been committed in no district (on the high seas, for example), where it is not clear in which district a crime was committed, or where a crime is continuing in nature and can be said to have been committed in more than one district. Conspiracy charges can be brought in any district where any act in furtherance of the conspiracy was committed.

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