With the current popularity of television crime dramas, many people have a fairly accurate understanding of the overall process of bringing a state criminal case to trial. Although federal cases follow a similar overall pattern, federal agencies have the resources needed to extend each step of the process. A year or more often passes before charges are filed in a federal criminal case.
Any alleged violations of federal law fall within the purview of the U.S. Attorney's office, which oversees the progress of all phases of the criminal process. This office begins by assigning the appropriate federal agency - such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the United States Secret Service - to conduct an investigation. According to the FBI, these investigations can involve a number of lengthy processes between the time a case is entered into the system and the time suspects are arraigned. Next, cases go through a series of prosecution and pretrial services, including:
- Filing charges
- Preliminary hearings
- Bail or defendant hearings
- Grand jury
The federal government may have extensive time to develop a case even before a person even finds out about charges against them. Moreover, any number of innocent individuals, such as co-workers of a suspect, might face questioning because investigators believe they may have information about the case and, as a result, become concerned about impending charges.
Anyone who undergoes questioning by federal investors or whose name is mentioned during the questioning of other witnesses should seek immediate advice and support from a criminal defense attorney with specific experience in federal criminal law matters. Early legal support can help witnesses rest easy knowing charges will not be filed against them. Even more importantly, it provides time for a potential defendant to develop an effective defense in the event federal charges are filed.