Typical Steps of a Federal Case
1. Agency Investigation
Normally, before you are indicted in the Eastern District of Texas (or any Texas Federal court), there is usually some individual contact with a Federal agent or law enforcement. Whether ATF, IRS, DEA, FBI, DHS or ICE or another of the other three-letter-agencies is investigating your case, they will normally want a statement from you. This is your sign that you must get legal help. Do not hesitate to exercise your right to remain silent and call Micah Belden. Micah Belden will then call the agent to determine the focus of their investigation and whether and under what condition you should meet with that agent. The normal answer is “no,” you should virtually never speak to an agent if you are a target of a Federal investigation unless you have worked out a resolution to your case.
Sometimes your case can be resolved through pre-trial diversion or cooperation. Pre-trial diversion is the only “favorable” way to resolve your case in the Eastern District of Texas except for acquittal or dismissal.
Almost all defendants are brought to Federal court a warrant, but sometimes in the Eastern District of Texas, a summons can be agreed to, in order to avoid you being arrested in an embarrassing place. A magistrate court then makes you have an "initial appearance" before him, at which time you plead not guilty and schedule a detention hearing to determine whether you will be held in custody pending trial. There is no “bail bond” system in the Eastern District of Texas like in state court.
The federal court makes a release or detention determination under the Bail Reform Act. It is usually an Eastern District of Texas Magistrate Judge that decides whether you are a flight risk, a danger to the community or if you can be released. Major drug conspiracies involve a "presumption of detention" which you must rebut by clear and convincing evidence.
In the Eastern District of Texas, a probation/pretrial officer always interviews you prior to this hearing (hopefully with an experienced attorney who is present) to recommend whether or not you should be held or whether conditions of release are appropriate. A detention hearing is then held under particular rules regarding detention hearing that your attorney must be familiar with.
In Federal Court, there is a unique “plea bargain” process that normally does not end up with an agreement for a fixed number of months or years, but rather a plea to a charge whereby the Judge will determine the sentence within the statutory range after a probation officer again meets with you and investigates your background and the case. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines which the judge will rely upon are highly complex, and your attorney must be familiar with them in order to give you competent advice regarding whether to go to trial or not. However, it is always your exclusive right to decide whether to go to trial or reach an agreement.
Whether or not you are detained pretrial, due to the Federal Speedy Trial Act your case will get set for trial in the Eastern District of Texas as soon as possible. Hopefully you show up with a lawyer ready to win.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty in the Eastern District of Texas, a Federal pretrial services officer will again interview you (with your attorney present) regarding your background and the circumstances of your case. They will give you a pile of release forms to sign so they can review everything about your background possible. They then prepare a Presentence Investigation Report which gives the judge all the relevant facts of your case and your life, and also calculates the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for your case. Their recommendation is heavily considered by the judge at sentencing. Your attorney must object to anything incorrect (including incorrect calculations) in the guidelines or the error can be waived. He also has only fourteen days to do so, so you must have an attorney that is on the ball. At your sentencing hearing, the judge will rely primarily on the Presentence Investigation Report and will also listen to you and the attorneys for each side (if you decide to allocate). It is rare for collateral witnesses such as family to be heard outside of submitting a letter to the judge.
Hopefully you win at trial or before, but in the event you do not, your case can be appealed from the Eastern District of Texas (or any Texas federal court) to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. They are not known for reversing many cases, so you have to do all you can to win at trial. If not, your attorney will brief your case and have the record submitted to the Fifth Circuit by the Clerk of the Eastern District of Texas.
If your appeal to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans is not successful, you can petition the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC to take your case. They are under no obligation to do so, taking less than 1% of cases submitted from the United States each year.