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Understanding how federal criminal cases are carried out -- III

In a series of ongoing posts, we've been exploring more about the federal criminal justice system in an attempt to help people better understand and appreciate the complexity of these cases. To that end, we've explored how federal investigations are carried out and, most recently, how federal grand juries work.

We'll continue these efforts in today's post, examining the next stage in the abovementioned process: the arraignment/initial hearing. 

To recap, at least 12 members of a grand jury will need to believe, based on the prosecutor's presentation, that the federal government has sufficient evidence (i.e., probable cause) to charge an individual. If this is the case, an indictment, meaning a formal notice informing the now-defendant of the charges against them, will be handed down.

Once this occurs, the defendant will be taken into custody by law enforcement officials as soon as possible. Subsequent to their arrest and the filing of formal charges, the defendant will be brought before a magistrate judge for an initial hearing. Indeed, this typically occurs on the same day, or the day after he or she is taken into custody.    

Several important things will happen at this initial hearing:

  • The defendant will be supplied with more information about their rights and the charges they are facing.
  • The defendant will see arrangements made concerning legal representation.
  • The defendant will be asked whether they plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.
  • The defendant will learn whether they will remain in prison or be released until trial.

If the defendant meets the baseline requirements for bail, the magistrate judge will schedule a bail hearing. The purpose of this proceeding is to uncover certain relevant facts about the defendant, such as their prior criminal record, the length of time they've lived in the area, whether any threats have been made against witnesses, any potential danger to the community, flight risk, etc. Based on this information, the magistrate judge will make a decision as to whether bail should be granted.

It's important to note that if a defendant cannot post bail, meaning come up with the required money, the magistrate judge will likely order him or her remanded to the U.S. Marshals Service.  

We'll examine more about the next step in the process, the discovery process, in a future post …

In the meantime, if you learn that you are under investigation for any type of federal crime, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible as time is of the absolute essence. 

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Mark J. O'Brien's cases have been featured in:
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