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What happens if you're accused of federal crimes?

Federal laws have been enacted by federal laws to protect the nation's citizens. While state criminal procedures may vary, the prosecution of federal crimes remains consistent.The criminal process can be very confusing. Finding yourself under arrest or facing federal charges is a scary position to be in and familiarity with the overall process may help ease some of the stress. Though some alternatives may be available throughout the process, most federal crime prosecutions follow a similar pattern.

Police officers obtain a warrant to arrest the suspect based on probable cause. Probable cause is generally built upon a foundation of affidavits, or sworn statements by officers. Following the arrest, there is an initial appearance. As soon as possible following an arrest, the suspect is granted an appearance before a magistrate judge to be informed of his or her rights and determine the type of counsel a defendant will receive.

If a defendant is held, a hearing must be given within three days to determine whether or not the alleged offender must be detained pending trial. Within 10 days of arrest, the defendant has the right to a hearing where the prosecutor must give enough evidence to show probable cause exists.

A grand jury, consisting of 23 randomly chosen citizens in the district, makes the final decision to prosecute the case. The government presents its case to the grand jury to establish probable cause. If the grand jury determines that the evidence establishes probable cause, an indictment is issued against the defendant.

Within 10 days from the indictment filing, an arraignment is held to advise the accused of his or her rights and to allow a defendant to plead guilty or not guilty. Defendants may admit their guilt by pleading; otherwise a trial will take place. A trial is given before a jury where the elements of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

After a guilty plea or unanimous guilty verdict by the jury, the U.S. Probation Office provides a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report to the Judge based on a defendant's crime and victims. Approximately eight weeks after a finding of guilt, the judge imposes a sentence. The defendant has the right to appeal the verdict as well as the sentence by filing a notice within 10 days of the sentencing.

Barring certain procedural exceptions, any timeline not allowing these steps violates the defendant's rights.

Source: United States Attorney's Office -- Minnesota, "Criminal Procedures," accessed Oct. 13, 2014

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