Navigating Your Federal Criminal Defense in Georgia

Georgia Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys

An arrest on a federal charge places you in a personal and financial crisis unlike any that you have ever experienced. Navigating the criminal justice system can be frightening and understanding what you can expect can go a long way towards helping you survive the process.

Here’s what you can expect:


I. Complaint

Unless you have already been indicted (formally charged) by a grand jury, the charges against you are begun by a sworn statement (called a complaint) presented to a U.S Magistrate Judge. The complaint may be issued either before or after you have been arrested. The magistrate determines whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that you committed it. If you have not already been arrested, a warrant for your arrest will be issued if the judge determines there is probable cause.

II. First Appearance

After your arrest, the officer making the arrest is required to take you before the nearest available magistrate without unnecessary delay. The magistrate will inform you of the charges, your right to counsel, and your right to request the appointment of an attorney, if you qualify financially.

The magistrate also will inform you of your rights concerning statements by you and to a preliminary hearing, if appropriate. You will not be required to answer questions about the charges against you.

III. Detention Hearing

You will be entitled to a bail hearing. That is usually held within 3 days of your first federal court appearance. Both the prosecution and the defense may request a later hearing date under certain circumstances. At this hearing the magistrate will determine whether, under the facts of your case, you will be released prior to trial. If you are released, you may be required to provide urine samples, surrender your passport, and comply with restrictions on your travel or residence. The court may set many other conditions. If you have been charged with a drug trafficking crime or a violent crime, the law requires a “presumption of detention,” which means that you and your attorney have the burden of convincing the judge to release you while awaiting trial. Many are detained while waiting for trial due to this presumption. You should discuss this matter with your attorney to decide the best way to proceed at the detention hearing.

IV. Pretrial Release and Detention

(A) After your arrest, the U.S. Probation Office will interview you to prepare a written report to the court. This report will be used to determine whether you will be eligible for release pending trial. If you are released, the probation office will oversee the conditions of your pretrial release. You should be aware that anything you say during such interviews may be used against you later in determining a sentence if you are convicted. A copy of the report, including your responses, will be provided to your attorney, the prosecutor, and the court. You are entitled to speak with an attorney before being interviewed. You should fully discuss the risks involved and, like most items discussed in this brochure, get legal advice before making decisions.

(B) If the magistrate orders pretrial detention, you usually will be housed at a county jail pending trial. Technically, you remain in custody of the U.S. Marshal.

V. Preliminary Hearing

You are entitled to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of your initial federal court appearance if you are in custody, or not later than 20 days if you are not in custody, unless you extend the hearing date, waive the hearing, or are indicted by a grand jury. The magistrate also may find that extraordinary circumstances exist, and that delay is necessary in the interest of justice.

The Assistant United States Attorney (prosecutor) is required to present evidence at a preliminary hearing to convince a judge that there is enough evidence against you (“probable cause”) to justify proceeding on the charges. The preliminary hearing may be the first opportunity that you and your attorney will have to learn something about the facts of your case. You will not be required to testify at the preliminary hearing. If the magistrate decides at a hearing that probable cause has been shown, you will have to answer the charges in U.S District Court. Whether a preliminary hearing would be useful is a matter your attorney will discuss with you.

Keep in mind that any statements you make throughout this entire process may be used against you and you are advised to obtain a lawyer as soon as possible to advise you regarding the decisions you must make.


I. Indictment

At some point in the process, either before your arrest or within a few weeks of arrest, the prosecutor will present your case to a grand jury. Neither you nor your attorney usually will be present. If the grand jury decides that there is sufficient evidence against you to justify charging you with a crime, then the grand jury will issue a formal charging document, called an indictment, stating the exact charges against you.

In some cases, it is appropriate to waive your right to indictment and permit the government to file an information against you. An information also is a formal charging document. It has the same effect as an indictment. The filing of an information bypasses the grand jury process. If waiver of indictment is an option in your case, your attorney will discuss it with you.

II. Arraignment

On an indictment, you will be scheduled for an arraignment before a U.S Magistrate Judge. At the arraignment, your charges are read to you. At that time, you will be required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges against you. You will be advised of your rights. If the case is a felony charge and your arraignment is before a U.S Magistrate Judge, you typically will be required to enter a plea of not guilty even if you have already entered into a plea agreement. No evidence will be taken at this time. Then, the court will set dates for motions to be filed and for evidence to be disclosed, and a date for your case to be tried. Your attorney will advise you of your rights and options.


I. Getting Ready

From this point on, your attorney will be collecting the facts and considering the law necessary to advise you of the strength of the prosecutor’s case, defenses you may have, the possible sentence you may face, and whether the attorney feels your interests are better served by a trial or a plea of guilty to one or more of the charges. Each case is different. Complicated cases take more time to investigate, assess, and prepare for trial than do simple cases. Your attorney will be doing whatever is necessary to prepare your case as quickly as possible. Remember: complete investigation may take several months.

The main point to remember is that your attorney can best advise you only after your case is fully investigated and after determining what level of punishment the government is seeking. Your attorney then will assist you in making the final decisions on matters that may affect your constitutional rights. You will be updated by letter or personal visit as your case progresses. If, at any time, you do not understand any matters in your case, write or call your attorney, and your questions will be answered.

II. Investigating your Case

Preparation is the key to the proper resolution of your case. Your attorney may have the assistance of an investigator, a paralegal, or both in the preparation of your case. It often will be necessary for the investigator or paralegal to meet with you to help prepare your defense. Just like your attorney, investigators and paralegals are bound by the attorney-client privilege. What you tell them will be confidential just as if you were talking with your attorney.

Your attorney, your investigator, and your paralegal need to know the truth, even if the truth makes you appear to be guilty. If we know the truth, we can avoid being surprised at trial. You and your family can help in our investigation of your case by giving us the names and addresses of witnesses who can testify for you and provide an accurate explanation of what happened. Do not contact witnesses who will be called to testify against you. Do not encourage anyone outside of the law office to contact witnesses. You could be accused of witness tampering, a federal crime. Again, any conversations you have with anyone other than your attorney or their staff could later be used as evidence against you. Remember that matters concerning your case should be kept confidential. Your family will of course be concerned about your case. It is not in your best interest to discuss the facts of your case with others, even your family. Discuss the issue of privacy with your attorney. Other than matters of public record, such as charging papers, motions and notices of hearings, we generally will not provide information to anyone, even family members, unless you specifically instruct us to do so after thorough discussion with us.

III. Discovery

Federal law provides limited access to the government’s evidence against you. In some cases, the prosecutor may provide more information than the law requires and make available the entire discovery file for review. In such cases, your attorney can review all evidence, testimony and investigative reports relevant to your case that are in the government’s possession. In other cases, the prosecutor may limit access only to those materials that, under the law, must be made available to the defense. In either event, only your attorney will have direct access to the government’s discovery file.

Your attorney will work closely with you to make sure that you know, and understand, what evidence is contained in the government’s file. The rules of discovery must be strictly adhered to. Your attorney will discuss these rules with you as your case progresses.

Your attorney also will communicate with the prosecutor to try to get an idea of the government’s view of your case. These discussions can be very helpful as we prepare your case and as you make important decisions regarding how to proceed. Whenever we talk to anyone outside our Office, we are very careful not to disclose any of the confidential information that you have told us or reveal any confidential strategy or results of our investigation.

IV. Motions

At different points, your attorney may file motions which may be heard by the court before or at trial. To best represent you, your attorney must be involved in all matters before the court. You should never file your own motions without fully discussing the proper procedures and contents with your attorney. If you have ideas about motions that might be filed in your case, you should discuss with your attorney whether those particular motions would be beneficial to your defense.

V. Trial or Plead Guilty?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees your right to a trial by jury. Any decisions to plead guilty, accept a plea agreement, waive trial by jury or any other decision to give up any constitutional right is exclusively yours to make. Your attorney will fully advise you as to your options and the benefit or risk of each option. Your attorney will give you his or her recommendation as to the decision that is in your best interest. However, the final decision is yours, and yours alone, to make.

Your attorney will review with you any proposed plea agreements. You should understand that people who plead guilty as compared with those who are found guilty of the same crime at trial do not necessarily receive the same sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines.

Strom Law Firm, LLC can provide an aggressive, well planned defense and will fight to have your charges reduced or even dismissed.  Contact us today at 912-264-6465 for a free consultation to discuss the facts of your situation and hear how we can help.