Remember that the answers below are very general. It is important to discuss your case specifics with your attorney.
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How can I qualify for appointed counsel (a free lawyer)?
If you are charged with a federal criminal offense, you will be considered for appointed counsel at the time of your initial appearance. If you cannot afford an attorney, the federal magistrate judge will appoint an attorney for you. If you have received a letter stating that you are the target of a Grand Jury investigation, you can apply to a federal magistrate judge for appointment of counsel. You will need to fill out a financial affidavit which can be found at http://www.uscourts.gov/forms/cja-forms/financial-affidavit
Do federal defender attorneys work for the court? Is my attorney going to work hard to defend me?
Although federal defenders are appointed by the court, we work for an independent agency and our mission is to provide the best possible defense to our clients. Our lawyers are not government employees and we are not paid by the court. Like all attorneys, federal defenders are ethically bound to zealously advocate for our clients. We strive to do this every day and for every client. Our clients are not numbers or statistics. Our clients are real people facing charges that can have a serious impact on their lives. We litigate our cases accordingly. It is in your best interest to work with and trust your attorney so that you can fully communicate all facts relating to your case with your attorney. That is the only way to ensure that your attorney has all of the facts necessary to represent you zealously and effectively. Please let your attorney know if you have any concerns about this.
Are my communications with my lawyer confidential?
The attorney-client privilege protects conversations between clients and their attorneys from being revealed to anyone outside the defense team. For this reason, only statements made to your attorney are completely protected from being revealed in a Government investigation. For the most part, statements made to anyone other than your attorney are fair game in a Government investigation, meaning that Government agents can question anyone other than your attorney about statements you make to them. Government attorneys can subpoena anyone other than your attorney about your statements, including family members.
Will the Federal Defender Program hold my property for me?
The Federal Defender Program cannot hold property for its clients because it does not have secured storage. Clients should have property sent to family or friends.
Bond and Pretrial Detention
If I get arrested by the feds, will I get released on bond?
It depends on the case. The key considerations for a magistrate judge in deciding whether to release a defendant on bond are whether the defendant is a risk of flight or a danger to the community. A magistrate judge may release a defendant on conditions sufficient to ensure a defendant's continued appearance.
How much is bail?
There is no fixed bail schedule in federal court. Because it is a case by case determination, release conditions, including bail, can vary dramatically depending on the seriousness of the charges, the defendant's history, and the defendant's financial circumstances. Some defendants get released on a signature bond without putting up any money, while others are required to post property or to have a corporate surety bond. The attorney assigned to your case can give a better feel for the conditions of release that might be required.
What paperwork do I need if the judge sets a property bond?
If the judge sets a property bond, you, your friends, or family members would need to bring the following documents to the clerk for the judge who set the bond: A The deed to the property; B. A statement from the mortgage company indicating how much is currently owed on the property; C. An appraisal or tax assessment showing the value of the property. All persons listed on the deed must be available to sign a property bond. There is no money required to post a property bond in federal court.
What happens if the judge sets a corporate surety bond?
If the judge sets a surety bond, friends and family would need to meet with a corporate surety (or bonding company) which has been approved by the court to handle federal bonds. Once arrangements are made with the corporate surety, a person from the corporate surety or bonding company will go over to the courthouse and post the bond with the court. Once the bond is posted, the clerk will place the defendant's name on the list to be brought over to the courthouse on the next business day for release. All bond releases in federal court are done at the courthouse, not the detention center.
What if the judge refuses to grant a bond?
A defendant who is not released on bond will be held in the custody of the United States Marshal until the issues in the case have been completely decided by the Court. The United States Marshal uses several different detention facilities. Click here for a list of those facilities, the addresses and phone numbers, and the policies and procedures relating to visitation and inmate funds.
Why is it a bad idea to discuss the facts of the case with my friend or family member over the telephone when he or she calls from the detention center?
Calls from detention centers are recorded and it is common for the prosecutor to get copies of the recordings and use them against the defendant. So, expect that anything that a defendant says on the phone will be played in court. If you do not want the judge or jury to hear it, do not mention it on the phone. Therefore, the Federal Defender Program advises all of its clients to refrain from making statements about the facts of their case over the telephone to anyone from the jail. If you are a friend or a family member, please help our client follow this advice by not asking about the case and by discouraging such talk if the topic comes up. Remember, anything a defendant says can and will be used against them. Further, statements made over the telephone can be misunderstood or taken out of context. It is better to not discuss the subject and possibly hurt the defense of the case.
What are my rights and how do I invoke them?
Every citizen has the right to remain silent when questioned by authorities. If you would rather not speak to a law enforcement officer or if you want to obtain a lawyer before speaking, you should tell the officer so. If you have a lawyer who is not there, you will have to tell the person questioning you that you want to invoke your right to remain silent. Ask the person questioning you to stop and tell him or her that you do not want to speak without a lawyer if you want to have a lawyer present. If you have a lawyer, you can tell the agents to contact your lawyer.
Federal agents want to talk to me. What should I do?
Clients: If you are a client, please contact our office immediately if any law enforcement agents attempt to interview you. You should never speak to any law enforcement official without your lawyer. Our office requests to be present for any interviews of our clients with law enforcement. Witnesses: We do not discourage witnesses from speaking to federal law enforcement officers or agents. Be aware, however, everyone in the United States has a constitutional right to choose whether or not to make a statement to a law enforcement officer. In other words, a person has no obligation to talk with a law enforcement officer. (An exception is that in some circumstances, one can be required to identify themselves to a law enforcement officer.) If you think you are the subject of an investigation, it would be prudent to first consult with an attorney before speaking to law enforcement officers about the investigation. You can also request to have an attorney
The police or federal agents want to search my house. What should I do?
If the agents have a search warrant, you must allow it. However, if agents are seeking your permission or consent, that means you have a choice and you are completely within your rights to refuse to allow them to search. In fact, the wisest path is often to refuse consent. Your refusal cannot be used against you. Clients: If you are a client, never consent to a warrantless search without consulting with your federal defender attorney. Others: We do not discourage witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement officers or agents. Everyone in the United States has a constitutional right to choose whether or not they want to allow a law enforcement officer to conduct a warrantless search. If an agent has a warrant to search your home, you must allow them to do so. If you think you might be the target of the investigation or if you feel uncomfortable about allowing a warrantless search, it would be prudent to consult with an attorney before you make your decision on whether or not to give your permission for a search. It is up to you.
I have received a notice to testify before the Grand Jury. What do I do?
The are two broad types of grand jury witnesses: "targets" and "witnesses." A target is someone who the government may charge with a crime. A general witness just provides evidence to the grand jury. Sometimes the letter from the United States Attorney's office will say that the witness is a target. Other times, the witness may just suspect that he or she is a target. In either of those situations, the witness should consider hiring an attorney or requesting appointment of counsel. If you are in this position, you are welcome to contact our office to learn more about this process.
Case related questions
When do I go to court?
After the first few court appearances, federal court time tables differ from case to case. Initial appearances are held as soon as possible after arrest by the federal authorities keeping in mind that court is not held on weekends or federal holidays. A bond hearing will typically be held either at the initial appearance or between three and five business days following the initial appearance. If you are arrested on a criminal complaint, the Government must obtain an indictment in felony cases within thirty days of the initial appearance. Arraignment is usually held shortly after the indictment is returned. Click here to see a general overview about federal criminal case timelines in the Northern District of Georgia. You should ask your attorney for more specific information pertaining to your case.
What is discovery?
"Discovery" is the evidence relating to the charges or to sentencing that is produced by the Government. "Discovery" can be five pages long, consisting of a rap sheet and a police report. It can also be hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in a complex fraud case. Discovery can include photographs of the scene, phone records, computer files, or forensic evidence such as fingerprints or DNA analysis. When an attorney is appointed to represent a defendant, one of his or her first jobs is to ask for discovery from the Government. Once the lawyer gets the discovery, he or she will make a copy for the client. Please be advised that the rules require the defense to provide discovery to the Government of any documents or evidence which the defense expects to use in its case at trial. That means if there are important documents that will be necessary to your defense, discuss and provide them to your attorney because the failure to provide this information to the Government prior to trial can result in the judge ruling that it cannot be used in your defense.
I've got a federal warrant on me. What should I do?
This sounds like an obvious answer, but a fugitive should immediately surrender to the closest federal marshal. In Atlanta, the U.S. Marshals Service is located on the 16th floor of the Richard B. Russell Building, 75 Ted Turner Dr. S.W., Atlanta. If a fugitive is caught by the U.S. Marshal, it makes it much more difficult to get bond in the case. Moreover, being a fugitive can have a negative impact on the main case: it can result in bad jury instructions, can increase a defendant's sentence, and can even result in new charges. If a defendant would like to surrender on a federal warrant, he or she can call our office and we can help to arrange an immediate surrender.
I am fighting state gun charges. Will my case "go federal?"
The sentence for a federal gun case can often be far longer than a state sentence for the same conduct. Pleading out to the charges in state court does not prevent the United States Attorney's office from taking your case. If you are a defendant in a state gun case, you should discuss the possibility of "federalization" of your case with your attorney. If you receive a visit from an ATF agent, this is a pretty good indication that the federal government is considering bringing your case to federal court. Be aware that you are not required to discuss your case with an ATF agent or anyone else other than your attorney. It is often a very bad idea to discuss your case with an ATF agent who comes to visit you at the jail. Consult with your attorney before discussing your case with anyone. County public defenders or retained counsel are encouraged to advise clients about the dangers of this happening. There are duty attorneys available on a daily basis at the Federal Defender Program to consult with.
Sentencing related questions
If I am sentenced to serve prison time, what would be my security level?
The calculation of security classification by the Bureau of Prisons is a complex process. There is no simple answer to this question. However, a link is provided here to the Bureau of Prisons Inmate Security Designation and Classification Program Statement P5100 08 for your information.
Where do federal prisoners do their time?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has facilities all over the United States. Federal inmates are sent to a facility that matches their security classification with an effort to locate the inmate as close as feasible to family members. A judge's recommendation can help encourage a certain placement, but the recommendation does not guarantee that the Bureau of Prisons will place an inmate in any particular facility.
What is good time and how much credit do you get for it?
There is no parole in the federal system. However, the Bureau of Prisons can credit up to 54 days per year against a sentence for good behavior. Be aware that the way that the Bureau of Prisons calculates good time is not what you might expect. Also, a person will generally receive less good time if they have not achieved a high school diploma or equivalency. We are frequently asked whether Congress is working on increasing the good time reduction. We are not currently aware of any change in the good time policy from Congress or any other place. Congress enacted a law called the Second Chance Act which does not affect good time, but which does permit the Bureau of Prisons to work on early transfers to halfway house placement for certain inmates. However, it is our understanding that there has so far been only a very limited implementation of this by the Bureau of Prisons.
I have a federal case pending against me, but I was originally arrested by a county jurisdiction. Then, the federal government issued a writ to have me brought over to federal court for prosecution. From what point will my custody begin to count against my federal sentence?
The answer to this question can be quite complex, but it important to understand the concerns that might drive the answer to this question in order to navigate the situation successfully. Generally speaking, a federal sentence counts from the time you are officially in primary federal custody. In other words, when you are merely "borrowed" from another jurisdiction, you are usually not considered to be in federal custody for sentence counting purposes. If you enter a plea in state or superior court and receive a sentence, usually the federal sentence will not begin to run until after the state sentence is complete. It is important to discuss these types of complex custody situations with your attorney in order to determine whether there is any way to avoid consecutive sentences. If you are a state practitioner, we welcome questions about this and other issues. Call our office and ask to speak with the duty or backup duty attorney.
I am in custody. Where can I find the forms necessary to file my own federal habeas or civil rights action?
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia provides forms for pro se litigants on their website. Check to see whether the forms you seek are posted on the court's website: http//www ganduscourts gov/forms/PrisonerForms php.
I have been on supervised release or probation for over one year. Can I ask the Court for early termination of supervision?
Yes. The law provides that probationers and person serving terms of probation or supervised release may move to terminate supervision after successful completion of one year. (Pretrial supervision usually does not count against this time period.) As a practical matter, a judge is unlikely to terminate supervision if there is unpaid restitution, incomplete community service or an unpaid fine in your case. Also, the judge will ask your probation officer for input as to your level of compliance during supervision. Therefore, if you have a good record of compliance and if you have completed financial and community services conditions of supervision, you may be a candidate for early termination. You are welcome to contact our office to inquire about this. It would also be a good idea to discuss this possibility with your probation officer to get a feel for the officer's position.
I am a foreign national serving a federal criminal sentence within the Bureau of Prisons. How can I get transferred to my home country to be closer to my family members as I complete my sentence?
If you are a foreign national imprisoned by the federal government on a non-immigration crime, you may be eligible for a "Treaty Transfer" at some point during your sentence if your home country is one of the participating countries. There is a webpage within the Department of State which lays out the details on this program. You should visit the website to determine whether your country is participating country and to determine what procedures must be met for consideration.