• FEDERAL CRIMINAL TRIAL PRACTICE
Areas of Legal Practice: Joseph J. Pappacoda
There are many criminal cases that are prosecuted in federal court, and some that are prosecuted concurrently in state and federal courts. If the alleged criminal activity is a violation of the United States Code, and the activity is a crime either committed against the United States, or a crime affecting interstate commerce, it may be prosecuted federally. The federal courts must have federal jurisdiction in order to prosecute the case.
There are numerous multi-state and federal agency task forces around the county and the State of Florida, composed of municipal police officers, Sheriff’s Deputies, and federal agents, that are designed to investigate specific activities criminally. For instance there is a multi agency drug task force in south Florida composed of police officers, and agents from a variety of federal agencies, who operate as one cohesive unit during the pendency of any particular investigation. These officers can be cross-designated officially in order to alleviate any potential jurisdictional issues that may arise related to their authority in a particular investigation. State officers may be witnesses in federal cases, and vice versa, depending on the nature of the investigation.
Depending on the specific facts of a particular case, the alleged criminal violations committed, and jurisdictional considerations, a decision is made whether to bring that multi agency case for prosecution in the federal court, or state court. Oftentimes, the forum selected for prosecution, is the forum which would impose a harsher sentence if the defendant were convicted. The forum selected directly impacts the nature of the charges brought, possible penalties, and the sentencing guidelines for the offenses listed. There are certain crimes for which the penalties are more severe in federal court, and others for which the penalties are more severe in state court. In many, but not all instances, the police and the agencies they represent, dictate whether a case is filed in state court or federal court. Sadly, some cases are filed in state court only to be moved to federal court at a later date. When this occurs, the state case ultimately gets nolle prosequi, or dismissed by the state court prosecutor and is picked up by the United States Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Sadly, there are instances where putative defendants, who have paid thousands of dollars to an attorney for state court representation, find out that they need to hire another attorney licensed in the federal courts, and to pay thousands of dollars to the new attorney for representation in the federal case. Few people realize that police and prosecutors intend to bleed defendants financially, solely for the purpose of improving the likelihood of conviction of a particular defendant. It sounds vindictive, and it is vindictive, but it is routinely done, and is shrouded in a cloak of prosecutorial discretion.
Federal court proceedings are more formal, structured, particular, and fast paced than state court proceedings. All federal courts require that an attorney to have a separate bar license, and pass a separate bar examination, to practice in federal court. Not all state court attorneys practice in federal courts for these reasons.
Whenever you are arrested for a criminal offense, you should make an effort to determine whether both the state and federal governments have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute you, and then ensure that you hire an attorney licensed to practice in both the state courts and federal courts, in the event that the venue in your case changes midstream.
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