Being charged with a crime can happen at any time in any state. In fact, millions of people every year commit the lowest level of crimes known as violations, most commonly in the form of vehicle traffic penalties. Technically, violations are crimes by category, the same as the next more serious level, misdemeanors. However, in both cases, the penalties are irritating but not life-changing. It’s only when one graduate to a felony level with a charge that things become significantly serious. And when the charge is a federal criminal charge, that defendant is entirely in a different world altogether. A Richmond defense lawyer becomes essential for most people in these circumstances.
How Federal Charges Happen in Richmond, VA
The most common situation involves being in the wrong place at the wrong time and giving the wrong answer. Federal charges can also come out being targeted by accusations that are either mistaken or false, attempting to mislead investigators. Ambitious agencies may also look to score arrests without validating evidence thoroughly, resulting in poor decisions and restraint on the power of arrest. There also can be circumstances where a party was coerced or forced into a situation that federal investigators see as a crime but, in reality, was the result of being a victim of someone else’s criminal activity. In short, federal charges can arise for all sorts of reasons, not all of them good or correct.
Richmond, VA, is particularly prone to developing federal charges against the local citizenry, mainly because the larger region and Washington, D.C. are practically a hub of most of the nation’s federal agencies. Most think that federal crimes are just the domain of improper government behavior or organized crime prevention. However, just speeding down the wrong street, protesting, or getting into an altercation with the wrong person at the wrong location can turn into a federal crime as well. As a result, without taking into any other factor, the concentration of federal personnel, property, institutions, and proximity makes Richmond and surrounding areas far more likely to be a federal crime allegation zone than other parts of the country, speaking statistically. New York City might be one of the exceptions.
And, of course, if one is arrested and charged with a federal crime in Virginia, it’s critical to know as early as possible what the charge and ramifications are, as well as how it came about and how to defend one’s self from the outcome in court. The first and best step anyone can take in this situation if they are lucky to find out about it before being arrested, is to get help from a qualified and experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Criminal Offense Types and Categories
Similar to state law, federal law has its own gradations of criminal charges. There are violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. However, unlike the state, federal penalties in these categories can be much greater in severity. Much of this has to do with far more restrictive sentencing guidelines at the federal court level passed by Congress. So, for example, where a state misdemeanor might see an incarceration of 90 days, a federal misdemeanor for a similar charge could see imprisonment of up to a year. In many cases, crimes involving violence and drugs, and weapons tend to garner harsher penalties, but various types of business and government operation crimes, better known as white-collar crimes, can see penalties up to decades of imprisonment. The reason for this harshness comes in setting examples and preventions. By being far more severe, the thinking is that fewer people will be inclined to take the risk of a federal criminal charge versus breaking state law.
Unfortunately, being charged with one crime can be just the start of a painful rollercoaster. As details and investigations are fully vetted, additional charges can be added. Federal prosecutors are famous for using a few charges to start the arrest process, and then they add more charges before arraignment or in motions to pile on the pressure to convince a defendant to plea bargain, i.e. work out a settlement for a guilty plea. This approach is so successful in cases that go to court the Department of Justice ends up maintaining a winning record of up to 97 percent of cases they litigate in criminal court. After all, if you’re facing the risk of being in federal prison for 30 years versus accepting a charge for 2 years, which one would most people take, even if innocent? So, what can a defendant do then, facing a federal criminal charge?
Start Early and Don’t Wait for Trial
The greatest amount of work towards resolving the risk of a federal criminal charge happens well before the charges are filed. And, if they are filed, and a defendant is arraigned, there is still time to get those charges reduced or eliminated by working with an effective federal defense attorney. The fact is, a small percentage of criminal charges go to full trial, which is the last place where a defendant wants to be. That has the highest risk of a severe sentence and the least amount of wiggle room to avoid a serious legal loss. Instead, an experienced defense attorney works aggressively to convince the prosecution they have made a mistake or, if not possible, to reduce the potential criminal charges. In the big picture, ending up being convicted of a federal violation or misdemeanor is a far better result than ending up convicted of a federal felony. Reducing the count to fewer charges, reducing the type of charge, and resolving misidentifications are key.
Cases are Defended before Trial and Through Paperwork As Well
Experienced defense attorneys also know how to use procedural law to help their clients as well. Overly aggressive agents tend to make mistakes, not following the letter of the law. This leaves room to help evidence be removed in various motions defense attorneys can make. When this type of defense is successful, or winning arguments that the government failed to follow proper procedure, it weakens the federal crime argument. Prosecutors are then inclined to settle for less or reduce charges just to close the case with some success rather than not at all. That works in favor of the defendant in federal court.
Don’t just hand off a federal defense to the first phone number found. It can mean the difference between freedom and losing everything in the federal court system. Focus on experience, specialization in federal criminal defense, and time in the Virginia federal court system. Those three factors, more often than not, set part good representation of a mistake.