Federal Criminal Defense2018-08-09T20:06:43+00:00

Have You Been Charged With A Federal Crime?

Do You Need The Best Federal Criminal Lawyers in Los Angeles?

While the majority of criminal cases are governed by state law and handled in state court, a significant portion are in federal court.  The cases in federal court are often more complex than those in state court and are often serious crimes. If you are charged with a federal crime, it is essential to retain a Los Angeles lawyer with experience handling federal cases.

Federal Courts in California


Federal courts throughout the country are divided into one of twelve circuits.  All of California falls within the Ninth Circuit, which also includes districts in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

California has four districts: Central District, Eastern District, Northern District, and Southern District.  

The Central District of California includes the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.  The district is divided into three divisions: the Eastern Division covering Riverside and San Bernardino Counties with a courthouse in Riverside; the Southern Division covering Orange County with a courthouse in Santa Ana; and the Western Division covering Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties with courthouses in Los Angeles.

The Southern District of California includes San Diego and Imperial Counties and has courthouses in El Centro and San Diego.

The Eastern District of California includes the Central Valley, from Bakersfield to Redding, and has courthouses in Fresno, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Redding, and Yosemite.

The Northern District of California includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma counties. There are courthouses in Eureka, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Differences Between Federal Court and State Court


  • Federal Law: Federal criminal cases are governed by both federal criminal law and federal rules of court procedure.  Many of these laws are the same or similar, but some are not. These means not all California constitutional or statutory protections apply in federal court.  Additionally, state law cannot shield a defendant from federal prosecution.
    • For example, California has legalized marijuana; however, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.  Although a defendant cannot be prosecuted for marijuana possession in state court, the fact that marijuana is legal in California is no defense to a prosecution for marijuana possession in federal law.  Additionally, California has passed several laws, notably Proposition 47 and Proposition 64, that reduce certain drug offenses to misdemeanors. These laws do not apply to federal drug offenses and cannot be used to reduce federal convictions.
    • Regarding procedural laws, under California law, a defendant’s speedy trial rights begin accruing once a complaint or any charging document is filed in both misdemeanor and felony cases.  However, under federal law, speedy trial rights in felony cases only begin when an indictment or information is filed; a felony complaint is insufficient to start speedy trial rights. Under California law, judges look at two factors in determining speedy trial motions: the justification for the delay and prejudice to the defendant.  In federal cases, judges look to four factors: the length of the delay, the prosecution’s justification for the delay, whether the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial, and prejudice to the defendant.  Because federal law is supreme, federal constitutional protections apply in state court, and a defendant in state court can take advantage of both standards. However, a defendant in federal court is limited to federal law.
    • Another example involves post-conviction relief.  California recently enacted § 1473.7, which allows individuals who are facing immigration consequences due to ineffective assistance of counsel to file motions to challenge their convictions even after they are out of custody or have completed probation, in addition to bringing the claims on direct appeal or habeas corpus.  Under federal law, ineffective assistance claims can only be brought on direct appeal or habeas corpus, which can only be brought while the individual is in custody or on probation. An individual with a federal conviction would not be able to bring an ineffective assistance of counsel claim after they were out of custody.
  • Federal Judges: Unlike state judges, federal judges are not elected.  Federal judges are appointed for life by the President, and confirmed by the Senate.
  • Federal Law Enforcement: Generally, federal law enforcement focuses on large, complex cases that cross state lines, or cases that are exclusively under the purview of the federal government, such as immigration enforcement.  Most federal criminal cases are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco Firearms, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Internal Revenue Service.  Occasionally, state law enforcement will refer a case to federal agencies for investigation, as these agencies generally have more resources to devote to investigations. Frequently, and especially with respect to drug and fraud investigations, local and federal law enforcement will form a “joint task force” for large investigations, which can be prosecuted in either state or federal court. Or both.
  • Formality: As a general rule, federal courts are stricter and more formal than state courts.  For example, although being licensed to practice in the State of California entitles an attorney to practice in any state court, an attorney must be admitted to practice in each federal district separately.  Many state court lawyers simply do not have much experience in federal court. That is why it is crucial to consult with a Los Angeles federal crime lawyer.

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Some Examples of Federal Crimes:


  • Drug charges
  • Immigration crimes
  • Money laundering
  • Wire fraud
  • Mail fraud
  • Trafficking
  • Embezzlement

Can I Be Charged Under State Law and Federal Law?


Some offenses are illegal under both federal and state law.  For instance, possession of cocaine is illegal under federal and state law.  This is known as concurrent jurisdiction. Usually, either local or federal law enforcement will investigate the case, and the defendant will be prosecuted by either the state or federal government.  However, for offenses that are crimes under both state and federal law, a defendant can be prosecuted by both the federal and state governments, even if he or she has already been prosecuted by the other.  For example, a defendant charged with a drug sale by the state government can later be charged with the same sale by the federal government—regardless of whether the defendant was convicted or acquitted in the state case.  The federal government generally does not prosecute cases that have already been prosecuted by the state; however, this is entirely discretionary and there is no rule prohibiting it from doing so.

Federal Sentencing


As a general rule, defendants in federal cases can expect more severe sentences than those in state court.

Federal sentencing is governed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.  Like the name implies, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Booker, the Guidelines are just that: advisory Guidelines. A court can impose a sentence outside the Guidelines recommendation if it is based on the appropriate considerations.

Sentencing Guidelines


The Sentencing Guidelines use the characteristics of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history to create a recommended range of sentences.  

The offense level is based on the charged offense and different characteristics of the crime.  Every federal crime has an assigned numeric base offense level. Offense levels are increased based on the amount of money or drugs at issue, or the number of victims.  The offense level is also increased if the defendant was a leader in the offense, and decreased if the defendant only played a minor role. The offense level is decreased if the defendant assists the government by cooperating with law enforcement or taking an early plea deal. The Guidelines contain numerous provisions increasing the offense level based on characteristics of the offense.   These adjustments and departures are calculated into the total offense level.

The second component of the Guidelines calculation is the Criminal History Category.  A defendant is placed in a Criminal History Category from I to VI, based on the defendant’s criminal history.  Points are given for prior convictions based on their seriousness and recency. A defendant also receives points if he was serving a sentence for a prior conviction when he committed the current offense.

Once the offense level and Criminal History Category have been determined, the Sentencing Table shows the recommended sentencing range for each offense level combined with each Criminal History Category.

Section 3553(a) Factors


After Booker, the Guidelines became advisory.  Courts must also consider the factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) to determine whether the Guidelines range is appropriate, whether an above or below Guidelines sentence is warranted, and impose the appropriate sentence.

The factors under § 3553(a) are:

  • The defendant’s history and characteristics
  • The nature and circumstances of the offense
  • The need to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence
  • The Guidelines range
  • The need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities

These factors allow the court to consider the defendant’s characteristics beyond his criminal history and may allow a skilled federal criminal attorney to present the court with significant mitigating information that would justify a below-Guidelines sentence.

What Should I Do If I Have Been Charged With A Federal Crime?


If you have been investigated or charged with a federal crime, it is crucial to retain an attorney who is experienced in federal cases.  Not all attorneys have experience with federal criminal laws or the complicated rules of federal procedure. Some lawyers aren’t even admitted to practice in federal court.  Our lawyers understand the complexity of federal law and procedure and are experienced in federal criminal cases. Contact our Federal Crime Defense Firm at 877-375-8188 today for a FREE case evaluation!