Crimes prosecuted in federal court are the result of thorough investigations by federal law enforcement and often involve greater amounts of evidence than criminal cases handled in state court. Generally, law enforcement will not pursue an arrest or indictment on federal charges against a defendant if they do not have a strong case. In turn, studies indicate federal prosecutors obtain convictions in over 90% of cases prosecuted in federal court.
Despite a number of similarities in how the cases are handled, there are a number of differences between criminal cases prosecuted in state court (i.e., district court and/or superior court) and crimes prosecuted in federal court. Below are some of the more obvious and notable differences between federal court and state courts in Massachusetts.
Most crimes involve violations of state laws and are under the jurisdiction of the state courts. However, crimes that are violations of federal law are prosecuted in federal court, including gun cases, drug cases, kidnapping, and bank robbery. Gun and drug cases prosecuted in federal court generally involve interstate activity.
Although not as high-profile anymore, organized crime is often the target of federal prosecutors through use of the RICO Act. While a number of financial crimes can be prosecuted in state court, tax evasion, money laundering, and fraud are prosecuted in federal court.
Although a number of crimes in state courts carry the potential for a life sentence (e.g., murder; armed robbery) and lengthy prison sentences, convictions for federal crimes almost always result in a committed time and generally result in more serious penalties than cases prosecuted in state court. A number of federal crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences and often result in large fines, as well.
While a number of the rules and procedures in Massachusetts state and federal court are the same or similar, there are differences in both the rules and how cases are prosecuted procedurally.
In the United States District Court in Boston, MA, a criminal case generally proceeds in the following manner:
The defendant is arrested by a federal law enforcement agency, taken into custody, and subsequently brought to federal court to appear before a Magistrate Judge.
At the Initial Appearance, the defendant appears before a magistrate judge and is advised of their rights, the basis of their arrest, and appointed counsel, if necessary. The magistrate judge decides whether or not the defendant can be released on bail. In cases where the defendant is arrested without a warrant, the initial appearance may largely focus on whether there was probable cause for the arrest. However, a defendant is not required to enter a plea at his or her initial appearance.
During a detention hearing, the Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting the case makes a request to have the defendant detained pending trial. Whether the defendant is a flight risk and/or a danger to the community are two major factors taken into consideration by the magistrate judge.
At Arraignment, the defendant is advised of their rights and the charges against them, and enters a plea of not guilty or guilty.
During the pretrial stages, both sides are permitted to file motions with the court. Defense counsel may file discovery motions, motions to dismiss, and motions to suppress.
While every case is different, negotiations with the prosecution regarding a potential plea deal may be ongoing and often intensify once all motions have been litigated and ruled on. At some point, with the advice of counsel, the defendant must decide whether to enter a change of plea or take their case to trial.
Depending on the defendant’s bail / custody status, the prosecutor may make a request to have the defendant taken into custody pending the sentencing hearing.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge may hear from any victims in the case, if applicable, and may or may not hear from the defendant. Prior to the hearing, the judge will have reviewed sentencing memorandums previously submitted to the court. The judge issues the sentence / punishment to the defendant during this hearing.
So long as a defendant did not waive his or her right to appeal, he/she can appeal their conviction and sentence.
In addition to procedural differences, the rules of evidence differ in state and federal court. As a result, evidence that may not be admissible at trial in state court could be admissible evidence at trial in federal court.
Riccio Law, LLC represents individuals on various crimes in in federal court in Massachusetts, including the following:
Lead attorney at Riccio Law, LLC, Anthony R. Riccio, Esq., is an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who has served as lead counsel in over fifty (50) trials over the course of his career. With a nearly 85% acquittal rate, Attorney Riccio has proven to be one of the most skilled trial attorneys in the Commonwealth.
If you are under investigation for federal charges, it is important to hire a Massachusetts federal criminal defense lawyer sooner rather than later. Attorney Riccio will immediately reach out to the government in an attempt to prevent charges from being brought. Whether under investigation or currently facing charges, contact Criminal Lawyer Riccio Law here or at (508) 226-4500 for a free case evaluation.