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What can I expect if charged with a crime in federal court?

Facing a federal criminal trial is particularly frightening for defendants, but you can lessen your anxiety by becoming familiar with the process. Typically, your criminal defense attorney will fill you in on the details of your particular case, but in the meantime, here is a brief outline of what you can expect when appearing in court for federal crimes.

Quite soon after an arrest, a probation officer or a pretrial services officer will interview the defendant and engage in a background investigation. The information discovered during this process will assist the judge in making decisions about the defendant and the case going forward.

From there, the defendant will make his or her first appearance before a judge. The judge will determine if enough evidence exists to go forward with the case. If so, the judge will give the defendant details about the charges and decide whether the defendant will be released or held until the trial. If released, the defendant may have to abide by certain restrictions set forth by the judge.

Next, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty, usually based on the guidance of the defendant's attorney. Most defendants choose to plead guilty in order to avoid a trial and to open the door to a possible plea bargain in exchange for a lighter sentence. As always, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution should the case make it to trial and the defense attorney will do his or her best to protect the defendant from damning evidence.

As you can see, it is a very orderly process in Maryland or elsewhere with the criminal defense attorney assuming the important role of both defending the client against all charges and disclosing details about each step with the defendant.

Source: United States Courts, "Criminal Cases" accessed Feb. 26, 2015

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