Federal sentencing laws are a labyrinth of guidelines, mandatory minimums, and conflicting case law. The most difficult fact about federal cases is that they generally have multiple defendants. Some of those defendants will have had previous felony convictions, and the only way those defendants believe they can reduce their possible jail time is to cooperate with the federal government. A person’s history can rapidly change a one year minimum to a 20 year minimum, or even mandatory life. Unlike many sentences in State courts, Federal time is 85 percent of the sentence.


Bond in federal cases is not common. Generally it depends on the type of crime, the connections the defendant has to that community, the defendant’s record, work history, family support, and other factors. Some people in federal court are released “on bond” and required to remain on “Home Detention”, reside in a work release center, or even a jail. Being bonded out to stay at the jail isn’t what most people think of when they are seeking a bond.


Fees in a federal case are generally higher and are not flat fees because of the complexity and the mass of information gathered by the Federal government. It is almost impossible to know whether your federal case will end up involving dozens of defendants. Even the slightest participation in a Federal Drug conspiracy can expose a person to the same penalty as the ring leader.

What makes it Federal?

In one category of cases a federal crime is one in which a Federal Agency is a party, for example:

• The F.C.C: pirate radio stations

• The U.S. Dept. of the Treasury: counterfeiting.

• Heath Education and Welfare: welfare fraud, adulterating foods or medications, or knowingly selling tainted foods.

• Dept of Agriculture: fraudulent agricultural loans.

• A.T.F. (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms): smuggling cigarettes, importing or selling firearms without a license or illegal firearms, possession of firearms by a felon, and selling untaxed liquor.

• E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency): dumping toxic substances, killing endangered species, importing banned chemicals.

• Dept. of the Interior: growing marijuana on Federal lands, arson.

• Labor Dept: failure to pay required benefits or wage violations.

• S.E.C. (Securities and Exchange Commission); insider trading, forging securities.

• D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Administration): importing illegal drugs or moving them across state lines.

Fraud or illegal actions which take place in the Federal Courts are in themselves federal crimes. Two examples of this are: perjury, and bankruptcy fraud.

Another category of cases are those which implicate interstate commerce. Examples include:

• Kidnapping across state lines

• Organized crime

• Internet child pornography (violates both Fed and local law)

• Threatening a Federal public official

• Interstate drug trafficking

• Bank robbery

• Hijacking trucks in interstate commerce

• Skyjacking

• Using U.S. Mails for any criminal purpose

• Counterfeiting

• Mortage fraud

Any crime that takes place on a military base, Indian Reservation, Post Office, Federal Office, or in the District of Columbia is automatically a Federal crime. In addition, any crime that targets a federal elected or appointed official, or federal employee, and the purpose of the crime is related to the federal employee’s work, or during working hours can be charged as a federal crime.

Additional crimes which can be charged in Federal court are related to Internal Revenue Service and include such crimes as: tax evasion, tax fraud, and failure to withhold Federal Taxes from a paycheck.

Please see my Links page for a link to the Federal Criminal Code

What Makes Federal Cases Complicated?

Federal Cases have the deserved reputation of being more complicated and difficult to defend from a defense perspective. Generally Federal cases have more defendants, more strict pretrial detention standards, harsher and more complicated sentencing, more formal trials, and a much worse overall experience for the criminal defendant.

Federal Drug conspiracy cases are perhaps the worst (outside of terrorism charges) cases in the federal courts. These cases rely almost entirely upon the testimony of cooperating witnesses, or as most people call them –snitches. The doorman to a crack house who has opened a door one time becomes exposed to a penalty which is as serious as the kingpin of the organization.

See this PBS article for an in depth look at the problem.

The simplest rule of thumb if you are questioned by federal agents is to first decline the conversation until you have representation, and then hire a qualified attorney. One of the most common crimes people are charged for in Federal Court is lying to a federal agent.

To understand how a Federal crime affects your situation, call my office or use our Contact Us page to set up a free evaluation of your case.