Atlanta Federal Crime Defense Attorney

The federal government can be a formidable adversary when it investigates and prosecutes an individual or organization for federal crimes. In many instances, federal investigators are well-funded, well-trained, and seasoned. And the federal prosecutors who handle federal criminal trials are generally capable and experienced.

If you are being investigated or prosecuted for a federal crime, then it is essential to obtain skilled and knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyers. For years, we have gone toe-to-toe with federal prosecutors and successfully defended individuals and entities involved in serious federal criminal investigations and prosecutions. We know federal criminal law, work hard, and represent individuals the way we would want to be represented. If you have a federal criminal matter to discuss, please contact us at (404) 658-9070.

What is a Federal Crime?

Federal criminal laws and state criminal laws are distinct. Most federal crimes are set out in Title 18 of the United States Code, designated “Crimes and Criminal Procedure.” Title 18 does not define “crime,” but a federal crime is fairly characterized as conduct that is prohibited by a United States federal law that carries criminal penalties.

Title 18, which collects Congressional statutes that impose criminal punishment for specified conduct, is divided into numerous chapters relating to different federal crimes. Those crimes range from mail and wire fraud to obstruction of justice to bribery to perjury to conspiracy, among many others. Other federal crimes are scattered through the remaining 49 titles of the United States Code, including for example, tax evasion under Title 26 of the United States Code.

What is the Basis for the Federal Government’s Jurisdiction to Enact and Enforce Federal Criminal Laws?

The United States Constitution gives the federal government authority over certain subjects, which Congress has used to pass a host of federal criminal laws. Under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, for example, Congress has exclusive authority over, among other items, bankruptcy, immigration, patents, the Postal Service, and coining and regulating money. Based on this provision, Congress has passed laws prohibiting bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud, immigration crimes, and money counterfeiting. Because federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over questions of federal law, those courts are positioned to adjudicate cases involving alleged violations of such federal criminal laws. Article 1, Section 8 also gives Congress authority over taxation. On that basis, Congress has passed federal criminal laws prohibiting tax evasion and tax fraud. Additionally, Congress has authority under Article 1, Section 8 “to regulate Commerce… among the several states.” From this, Congress has passed myriad federal criminal laws targeting criminal conduct that crosses state lines.

Additionally, the federal government has jurisdiction to enforce a range of federal criminal laws on property owned or administered by the federal government (e.g., national parks, federal courthouses, federal prisons, the District of Columbia, and Indian reservations).

What Happens if Certain Conduct is Prohibited by Both State and Federal Criminal Laws?

In some criminal cases, federal and state criminal laws overlap. Given the federal government has authority to prosecute crime that crosses state lines, it is possible that the federal government will prosecute criminal conduct that moves from one state to another and the states involved will also prosecute the criminal conduct that occurred in each respective state. In this instance, the Double Jeopardy clause—which protects any person from being “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”—does not apply. Under the doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction, federal and state law enforcement authorities may both charge a person with a crime based on the same underlying conduct because state and federal criminal laws are viewed as distinct “offenses.” In practice, this means that an individual could be acquitted of a federal charge and prosecuted later by a state for the same conduct.

How is the Federal Criminal Law System Organized?

Congress separated the federal judicial system into 94 federal judicial districts, with at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In addition, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands also have district courts that adjudicate federal criminal cases. Each federal judicial district has a United States district court with district court judges, law clerks, permanent clerks, United States Marshals, court reporters, and various other support staff.

Each district has a United States attorney, who serves as the federal government’s chief law enforcement official in that district. Many districts also have a Federal Public Defender’s Office that represents people charged with federal crimes who are unable to afford a lawyer.

Further, Congress has created thirteen circuit courts of appeal, twelve of which have jurisdiction to hear appeals in federal criminal cases arising from federal district courts in defined regions. For example, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals hears appeals arising from federal criminal cases in district courts in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Who Investigates Federal Crimes?

Congress has granted specified authority to investigate federal crimes to various federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Congress did not set out to create duplicative law enforcement agencies, but instead to establish agencies that specialize in different types of federal crimes.

Who Prosecutes Federal Crimes?

Federal prosecutors. The President of the United States appoints a United States Attorney for each of the 94 judicial districts to serve as the chief law enforcement official in each respective district. In most cases, Assistant United States Attorneys—who work for one of the 94 United States attorneys—prosecute specific federal criminal cases. In some cases, the Department of Justice prosecutes federal crimes by using DOJ lawyers who specialize in specific categories of federal crimes (e.g., health care fraud, antitrust violations, and so forth).

I am Being Investigated for a Federal Crime. Should I Talk to the Federal Investigators?

Not until you have talked to an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. There are no magic words you are required to say; “I am invoking my right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent until I have consulted with counsel,” would be more than adequate. Regardless of whether you feel pressure to talk, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that each United States citizen has an absolute right to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement officials.

Even if you believe you haven’t done anything wrong, there are still substantial risks that arise from talking to federal investigators before you have consulted with counsel. In all cases, the best possible advice is to consult with counsel before talking to federal investigators looking into potential federal crimes.

How Many Federal Crimes are There?

At least several thousand. Various lawyers, academics, and organizations dispute the precise number of federal criminal laws because, first and foremost, federal law does not provide a general definition of the term “crime.” Additionally, some statutes identify multiple crimes, and determining the number of crimes set out in a single statute requires judgment and application of pre-determined criteria given the absence of a definition of “crime.”

How Does the Federal Government Decide Which Federal Crimes to Enforce?

Each presidential administration sets law enforcement priorities, and the United States Attorneys appointed by that administration are charged with effectuating those priorities.

Considering the enormous volume of federal criminal laws, the federal government has substantial discretion to determine which laws to enforce. Over time, the federal government has tended to enforce a certain set of expansive federal criminal laws that encompass various kinds of conduct rather than enforcing more specific and narrow federal criminal laws. The mail fraud and wire fraud statutes, for example, are quintessential examples of broad criminal laws that cover swaths of behavior. The breadth of such statutes makes them more user-friendly and appealing to federal prosecutors. Further, federal prosecutors tend to be drawn to working with statutes they have used before with success rather than branching out and using statutes with which they may be less familiar and for which the caselaw may be less developed.

Is There Data Available on Which Federal Crimes are Most Often Investigated and Prosecuted?

Yes, the United States Sentencing Commission compiles, analyzes, and disseminates information about numerous issues relating to federal crimes, including which federal crimes have accounted for most prosecutions. According to the Sentencing Commission’s Fiscal Year 2018 publication entitled, “Overview of Federal Criminal Cases,” more than 80 percent of federal prosecutions have involved federal crimes relating to drugs, immigration, firearms, fraud, theft, or embezzlement.

If you have a matter that you would like to discuss with experienced federal criminal defense lawyers, please contact us at (404) 658 – 9070.

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