Pittsburgh Federal Attorney | Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys

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There is a distinct federal criminal court system outside of each state’s criminal courts. When you are charged with a state crime, it is because you violated a Pennsylvania statute. A state-level prosecutor will try your case in a state court. Pennsylvania legal procedures and statutory punishments will apply to your case. When you are charged with a federal crime in Pennsylvania, it is because of a violation of federal law. Federal prosecutors will try your case in a federal court, and federal rules of procedure will apply. If convicted of a federal crime, you face punishments outlined by federal law, and any term of imprisonment will be carried out in a federal facility.

Due to the many differences between the Pennsylvania and federal court systems, attorneys must be admitted to the federal bar as well as their state’s bar. An attorney licensed to practice in Pennsylvania is not necessarily able to or experienced in federal court. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, many of our Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers are also federal defense attorneys licensed to practice in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania, Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Our team is well-versed in defending against a wide range of federal crimes. To learn how a federal defense attorney can help you, call us at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a consultation and learn more about federal laws that may apply to your situation.

When Can You Be Charged with a Federal Offense in PA?

There are multiple levels of criminal charges. Depending on the statute you are accused of violating and other factors in your case, you may be charged with a federal crime instead of state-level offense. This typically occurs when:

  • You violate a federal law
  • The offense allegedly took place on federal property
  • The offense allegedly crossed state lines, either physically or electronically
  • The offense was investigated by federal law enforcement agents
  • Your arrest was based on information provided by an informant

When your actions have the possibility of being charged as a state or federal crime, then the decision may be left up to the prosecutors. For a variety of reasons, federal prosecutors may let the offense be handled at the state level. However, when a crime can be charged as a federal offense, it often is. The federal system typically allows for harsher punishments and enables prosecutors to look like they are tough on crime.

Common Federal Criminal Offenses in Pennsylvania

For almost every state-level crime, there is a federal counterpart. There are also additional actions that are a violation of federal law alone. Our federal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys are prepared to defend you against all of these charges, including:

  • Antitrust Violations– There are numerous federal antitrust laws intended to protect consumers from bad-faith business practices, unfair competition, monopolies, and more. If you are accused of violating one or more of these laws, then you will face federal charges that may result in significant penalties.
  • Bribery– If you are accused of trying to convince a federal employee or foreign official to accept money, property, or something else of value in exchange for doing something for you in return, then you will be charged with bribery.
  • Child Pornography– It is illegal to intentionally make, view, possess, or distribute pornography that includes minors participating in or simulating sexual activity. Child pornography accusations can quickly lead to federal charges with harsh consequences. If you are accused of being involved with child pornography or another federal sex offense, call a federal defense attorney immediately.
  • Conspiracy– If you and at least one other person intend to commit a crime that can be charged at the federal level, then you may face federal conspiracy charges. Prosecutors must prove there are at least two of you involved in the offense, and that you took steps toward committing the crime.
  • Computer Crimes– Federal laws seek to protect individuals in the modern age. There are laws against hacking, cyber terrorism, the use of ransomware and malware, fraud committed over the internet, identity theft, and more. If you are accused of committing a crime online and it impacted victims in other states, you may be charged with a federal computer crime. Contact a federal defense attorney for help right away.
  • Drug Charges– Small-time drug possession and sale cases are usually kept at the state level. However, when large amounts of drugs are involved, the drugs crossed the U.S. border or state lines, or the authorities have evidence of manufacturing or distribution, then you will likely face federal drug charges, which can result in harsh penalties.
  • Embezzlement– You may face federal embezzlement charges if you unlawfully appropriate federal funds or property you had access to due to your position of trust, such as holding a government position.
  • Environmental Crimes– Many federal laws have been enacted to protect the environment, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. If you, as an individual or business, are found to be in violation of one or more environmental regulations, then you may be charged with a federal crime. Contact a federal criminal defense attorney to plan how to respond to these allegations.
  • Fraud-Federal fraud charges can arise if you are accused of unlawfully obtaining money, property, services, or another benefit through providing false information to another person, business, or organization.
  • Homeland Security– Following a rise in terrorist attacks around the world, the U.S. enacted the Homeland Security Act, which details how federal law enforcement agents may investigate crimes. If you or a business are accused of violating this Act, committing an act of terrorism, or furthering terrorism, then you will face federal charges.
  • Identity Theft– It is illegal under federal law to obtain other people’s personally identifying information without consent and use this identifying information for personal gain.
  • Illegal Re-entry– The U.S. has a number of immigration policies, including when individuals may come into the country for the first or a subsequent time. If an individual is deported and then re-enters the country without the proper visa, then they can be charged with illegal re-entry. This will result in being detained, imprisoned, and deported again. If you are accused of any immigration-related offense, call a federal defense attorney as soon as possible.
  • Insider Stock Market Trading– If you use confidential information to buy and sell stock and or influence the stock market through an unlawful advantage, then you can be charged with insider trading, which can result in fines and imprisonment.
  • Intellectual Property Theft– You may face federal intellectual property theft charges for unlawfully using another person or business’s copyrighted, trademarked, or patented works.
  • Money Laundering– If you attempt to hide money obtained by illicit means through fraudulent financial transactions, then you will be charged with federal money laundering.
  • Racketeering– If there is evidence that you have participated in a criminal organization, you may be charged with a crime under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the Hobbs Act, the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Activity, or the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Law. Let our federal criminal defense attorneys help you prove your innocence.
  • Theft– You may be charged with a federal theft offense if you are accused of taking, exerting control, or retaining property without consent. The theft is often of federal property, occurs on federal property, or violates a federal law to result in federal charges.
  • Tax Evasion– If you file a false tax return or do not pay your taxes, then you can be charged with tax evasion.
  • Witness Tampering– If it is illegal to successfully or attempt to intimidate, bribe, harm, or in any way interfere with a witness who is scheduled to testify in court.

Penalties and Jail Time for Federal Charges

When facing a federal crime, have an honest discussion with a federal lawyer regarding the potential penalties and collateral consequences. Federal crimes often have higher fines and longer terms of imprisonment than Pennsylvania crimes. There are 43 levels of offenses and potential punishments under federal law.

Prison sentences can range from no time for a low-level offense, to life in prison for a higher-level crime. Fines range from $200 up to $500,000 or more. You may also be required to pay restitution to victims, serve time on probation or supervised release, and other criminal punishments.

If you are convicted of a federal crime, you will have a permanent criminal record that will appear on any background check in every state. It will impact your employment opportunities, educational options, and family life. You should speak with our experienced federal lawyers to determine the statutory and collateral consequences you face in your situation.

The Federal Court Process in Pennsylvania

Since the federal criminal court system is distinct from Pennsylvania’s criminal courts, the criminal process will be a bit different. If federal prosecutors want to charge you with a federal crime, then they must call a grand jury. During a grand jury, which is a secret proceeding, the prosecution puts forth its evidence against you, including calling witnesses. The jurors decide whether they believe there is enough evidence to charge you with a federal crime. If at least 12 of them believe there is enough evidence, they will hand down an indictment against you.

Once there is an indictment against you, you will be arrested and officially charged. The next step is your arraignment, where you go before a magistrate judge. At this time, you hear the charges against you and your rights, learn whether you can be released on bail, and enter your plea.

After your initial court hearing, your federal criminal attorney and the prosecution will participate in discovery, which entails the exchange of information and evidence relevant to the case. During this time, your attorney or the prosecutors may begin negotiations on a plea bargain. However, if you cannot come to an agreement on a plea deal, then both sides will move forward with preliminary hearings and pre-trial motions in order to prepare for trial.

Throughout this process, you need a federal defense attorney with years of experience handling federal cases and fighting federal charges on behalf of their clients. Your lawyer needs to know the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence to appropriately handle your case and aggressively defend you in court.

Evidence in Federal Criminal Cases

If you discover you are the target of a federal investigation, it is very likely that you are going to be indicted. Before prosecutors formally file charges against you, the federal government has probably been working for months or even years to build its case.

You probably will find that federal investigators have gathered extensive evidence before you were charged. The federal government has far more resources to allocate to investigations than do Pittsburgh-area police. They will be able to obtain your phone records, wiretaps of your phone conversations, and a paper trail of your texts and email. Undercover federal investigators from agencies that include the FBI and the DEA may have even taken photos or videos of your activities and spoken with your contacts.

Your federal attorney will make discovery requests to obtain items such as phone tap recordings, witness statements, photos or videos, lab reports, and law enforcement reports. One of your attorney’s most important tasks will be to go over this information carefully to find anything inaccurate or inconsistent that can strengthen your case.

Federal Crimes FAQs

I am under federal investigation but haven’t been charged yet. Do I need an attorney?

If you are under federal investigation, you are likely to be arrested or indicted. It is very important to hire an experienced attorney as soon as possible, even if you are only being investigated. It can mean the difference between moving on with your life and facing federal criminal charges. Many times we can help you avoid being indicted altogether.

An attorney may be able to obtain information about the investigation that is crucial to the decisions you will need to make. Throughout this important stage, your federal attorney will ensure that your rights are protected under the U.S. Constitution. An attorney will know how to fight your federal case.

What is the difference between federal and state cases?

Federal cases fall under federal jurisdiction. They involve interstate crimes or crimes that cross international boundaries. Read more about the differences between state and federal charges here.

Who investigates federal crimes?

U.S. government agencies, including the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, and ATF, investigate federal crimes. In some instances, Pittsburgh police may work along with federal agents to investigate a case.

Who prosecutes federal crimes?

If the alleged federal crime took place in the Pittsburgh area, it will likely be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

What role does the grand jury play?

Federal grand juries investigate whether a federal crime took place and, if so, who likely committed that crime. When a grand jury finds that there is probable cause that a crime was committed, they will indict the person they believe violated the law.

Grand jury proceedings are secret. Witness testimony and the evidence presented are not disclosed to the public.

I am the target of a federal investigation. Will I have to testify before a grand jury?

During the process, a grand jury has the right to subpoena witnesses to testify before them. If someone is the target of a federal investigation and they are subpoenaed to appear before a grand duty, there is probably evidence they have committed a crime and they are likely to be indicted. Prior to issuing a subpoena for the target to testify, prosecutors will first attempt to have them testify voluntarily. If they don’t appear voluntarily, prosecutors will likely seek to have them subpoenaed.

What is asset forfeiture?

Asset forfeiture means that the federal government has seized money or property in connection with a crime. In criminal cases, federal law gives the government the right to confiscate assets such as money or vehicles that allegedly represent the proceeds of a crime.

If the government seizes your assets, you will receive a notice that informs you they intend to keep them. You will then have a limited time during which you can challenge the government’s right to retain your money and property. An experienced federal defense attorney can help you navigate this process and fight for your property.

What are federal sentencing guidelines?

Federal courts use a complex system of sentencing guidelines. Offenses are classified at 43 different levels, and points are added on based on prior convictions and other factors. Using this combination, sentencing judges determine which of four sentencing zones, each with a range of prison time, should be used to punish the defendant. Additionally, the judge has the leeway to increase or lessen a sentence based on extra or mitigating factors.

If you are found guilty in a federal court, your sentence will usually be harsher than if you were convicted in a Pennsylvania court.

Where will my case be tried?

In Pittsburgh, your case will be tried in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania located at the U.S. Courthouse, 700 Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh.

Let Our Pittsburgh Federal Attorneys Help You

Being charged with a federal crime is intimidating, yet there is always a defense strategy you can utilize to fight for your exoneration or minimize the consequences of a conviction. Let our team investigate your case and build you the strongest possible defense possible.

To discuss how we can help in your case, contact us at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a free case consultation.