Either a criminal complaint or an indictment can be filed to start a federal criminal case. The US Attorney’s office and the law enforcement body that looked into the issue (the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, etc.) collaborated to create a criminal complaint. A Federal Magistrate Judge reviews the case to decide if there is sufficient evidence to believe that the accused committed the alleged offense.
A criminal complaint alone cannot result in a conviction. It serves just as a stand-in while the government prepares a criminal case. The government has 30 days to present the case to a grand jury for an indictment after it is filed and the defendant is made aware of it in order for the case to proceed.
A formal criminal charge brought by a grand jury against a person or thing is called an indictment. A grand jury is a panel of 23 persons assembled by a federal court to hear preliminary evidence and assess whether there is sufficient evidence to convict a specific person or business of a federal offense. It is a confidential process. The Grand Jury votes for an indictment if they find that there is sufficient evidence to suspect that both the accused and the alleged offenses were committed. The document is created and presented to the court by the US Attorney’s Office.
The criminal case can move forward if an indictment has been submitted to the court. According to federal law, the case must move on to trial within 70 days after an indictment is filed and the defendant is made aware of it. Federal criminal procedure law, in particular Rule 16, requires the government to deliver all the documents and other materials it plans to use in the case to the defendant and his attorney during that time. Discovery is what we call this.
The lawyer will go over this information with his client to identify the best course of action. One possibility is that the lawyer could submit motions to the court, which would be a formal request to the court stating that the defense believes the government did not obtain the evidence legally or asking for a court investigation or hearing on a specific issue. The matter can move forward to trial after all discovery is finished, motions have been decided upon, and hearings have taken place.
The burden of proof at trial rests on the prosecution to convince a unanimous jury of twelve ordinary citizens that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest legal standard. The defendant will be given the chance, through his counsel, to confront the witnesses for the prosecution, refute the evidence, and offer his own evidence. The defendant must be declared not guilty if the prosecution cannot establish his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and persuade all 12 jurors. From a few months to two or three years, or even longer in extreme circumstances, this complete process can take.
A defendant may decide to admit guilt at any stage of the proceedings. Or, the government might want to provide the defendant with a plea deal. The choice of whether to enter a guilty plea or proceed to trial is crucial and should be discussed between the client and the attorney. The benefits you may gain from a downward departure earlier in the process might be greatly outweighed by the exposure you would face following a trial and conviction if the evidence were overwhelming. Undoubtedly, sooner rather than later realizing the weaknesses in your defense will have a significant impact on your liberty, profession, and family. Protect yourself by putting advocacy, expertise, and knowledge to work for you.