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Understanding the charging process for federal crimes

The federal criminal process involves numerous steps from beginning to end. Before a Louisianan is charged with a federal crime, an investigation will be conducted. Following an investigation, should prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence to pursue federal charges, an individual will be charged with a crime.

It can be helpful to have an attorney during the investigation stage to protect a Louisianan's rights, but such legal protection is even more essential once an individual is facing charges. At the charging stage of the federal criminal process, an individual may have already been arrested. Subsequently, a prosecutor may present the case to a grand jury with an indictment, which constitutes formal notice that prosecutors believe a person has committed a crime and includes basic information about the pending felony charge or charges.

During a grand jury proceeding, a prosecutor may call witnesses to testify and present evidence of an alleged federal crime. The prosecutor will outline the general case to the grand jury, but will likely not present all of the prosecution's evidence. The grand jury members will then have the opportunity to vote regarding whether they believe there is sufficient evidence to formally charge the individual with a crime. If a grand jury determines that the prosecution has presented insufficient evidence of criminal activity, it may choose not to indict. Grand jury proceedings are sealed, which means that the information presented in the proceeding is available solely to those involved in the proceeding.

Should an indictment follow from a grand jury proceeding, a defendant may then face an initial hearing and arraignment proceeding. Due to the complexities involved and the multi-step process, legal counsel can be invaluable at each stage of a federal criminal proceeding.

Source: justice.gov, "Charging," accessed Sept. 2, 2016

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