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Understanding how a federal criminal case will proceed can help people concentrate on building their defense.

Federal Criminal Process: What to Expect

The federal criminal process is highly complex and may leave you feeling confused. How a federal criminal case will proceed is governed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, rules designed to move cases along in a predictable fashion. Each step of a case’s process carries with it different events you may expect to occur.

Arrest and Detention Hearing

If you are accused of violating a federal law, the first step in the case may be your arrest, followed by a detention hearing. The prosecutor will prepare the complaint in which the charges and allegations are outlined. Together with the complaint, the U.S. Attorney will request an arrest warrant, and law enforcement authorities will then arrest you. You will next have your initial appearance before a judge who will determine whether there is enough evidence for you to be indicted and will set bond. The prosecutor may argue that you need to remain in custody until trial. The prosecutor may then request up to three days to prepare for a detention hearing.

Indictment or Complaint

The prosecutor may choose to proceed via grand jury indictment or preliminary hearing. The federal grand jury is made up of 23 citizens who will hear evidence in order to determine whether there is probable cause to believe you have committed the charged crimes. If they do, they will return a true bill. If the prosecutor elects to proceed by preliminary hearing, the judge will determine whether there is probable cause. If probable cause is found, you will be scheduled for an arraignment, at which your charges and maximum penalties will be read to you and you will set trial.

Understanding Criminal Procedure Is Important

Federal criminal procedure can seem very confusing, but if you understand the process, you will be better able to help your criminal defense attorney prepare your federal criminal defense. The potential collateral consequences of a conviction may extend far beyond a prison sentence. Concentrating on preparing the best federal defense is important so you can protect your freedom and life.