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Federal indictment/charges (criminal case)

San Francisco, CA |
Filed under: Criminal defense

When a defendant is charged in a criminal matter in federal court by an ausa does the charging document/indictment allow the defendant to have a good idea of the evidence against them so that the defendant along with their counsel could adequately decide whether to plead guilty or not based on the strength of the case?

Attorney Answers 7

Posted

Federal defendants have considerable rights of discovery. In every conceivable circumstance the defense attorney (whether private or a federal public defender) would insist on obtaining from the prosecutor the evidentiary material required to be produced in discovery before even considering a guilty plea.

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2 comments

Asker

Posted

As a defendant would requesting a discovery via the help of counsel hurt you along the process by keeping you from getting sentencing reductions such as (acceptance of responsibility)? This is asked because federal prosecutors are extremely bureaucratic and can throw their weight around very easily. The idea of someone utilizing their rights as a defendant by requesting discovery could be misconstrued by the prosecutor, judge, or federal probation officer as not accepting responsibility which would hinder a defendant from getting a fair outcome in a criminal proceeding.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

Mr. Horowitz' comment addresses this issue very well. I will add only that federal prosecutors expect indicted defendants to utilize regular defense processes and there is not likely to be any inappropriate or disproportionate reaction to defense actions in the ordinary and regular course.

Posted

It depends: the US usually proceeds by indictment which can be very short or very detailed. I've had two page indictments, I have also had 150 page indictments (usually RICO cases). Some are very, very detailed. No one decides whether to plead guilty on an indictment alone (or a complaint alone). The defense always requests a great deal of discovery (evidence) and the government usually provides a great deal without even asking.

No legal advice is given here. My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must NOT be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions & Answers forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. I am only licensed in the States of California and New York and the District of Columbia

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5 comments

Asker

Posted

When you said that"the defense always requests a great deal of discovery (evidence) and the government usually provides a great deal without even asking". Did you mean that everyone is entitled discovery regardless of the charges?

Anthony Michael Solis

Anthony Michael Solis

Posted

Yep. See Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 16.

Anthony Michael Solis

Anthony Michael Solis

Posted

The government provides initial discovery and the defense usually asks for more, and more and more, and makes motions to compel the government to turn over even more.

Asker

Posted

As a defendant would requesting a discovery via the help of counsel hurt you along the process by keeping you from getting sentencing reductions such as (acceptance of responsibility)? This is asked because federal prosecutors are extremely bureaucratic and can throw their weight around very easily. The idea of someone utilizing their rights as a defendant by requesting discovery could be misconstrued by the prosecutor, judge, or federal probation officer as not accepting responsibility which would hinder a defendant from getting a fair outcome in a criminal proceeding.

Anthony Michael Solis

Anthony Michael Solis

Posted

Requesting discovery does not hurt a defendant. If anything it helps. Sometimes if the discovery takes a long time--like so long you give up a good offer, that can be harmful, but generally, one is seldom harmed by getting additional discovery.

Posted

The charging document lists the allegations of statutory violations. The discovery provides the meat of the evidence. Simply looking at the charging document won't tell you how weak or strong a case is, you have to examine the discovery as well as conduct your own defense investigation to size up a case. Best bet is to consult your attorney about the strength of the case against you. If you don't have an attorney hire one asap. Good luck

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Posted

I started in the federal court system and was exclusively a federal criminal defense attorney for many years. The length of the indictment will depend on the number of counts and whether or not a conspiracy was involved. The acts to justify the counts will be listed in the indictment. The indictment will not contain the evidence to support itself. The evidence will be disclosed later.

The very first day in court is important and is not like the typical state case. It is important because release conditions will be determined. Prior to the hearing the defendant will meet with pre-trial services to determine release conditions.

If the client is considering an early plea it may be to the clients advantage to waive the indictment and go forward on the information. This typically occurs when there is a resolution prior to the indictment or when there is only one count and the client is pleading guilty but there has been no agreement in the penalty.

As you see there are many things to consider. Not every attorney practices in the federal court so make certain you find an attorney that does.

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The response above is not intended as legal advice since it’s impracticable to provide thorough, accurate advice based upon the query without additional details. It is highly recommended that one should seek advice from a criminal defense attorney licensed in your jurisdiction by setting up a confidential meeting. Moreover, this response does not constitute the creation of an attorney-client relationship since this message is not a confidential communication because it was posted on a public website, thereby publicly disclosing the information, which is another reason to setup a confidential meeting with an attorney.

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Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

This is a very insightful and informed response that clearly establishes Mr. Cernyar's special and considerable skills and experience in the unique demands of federal criminal defense. Asker, it will serve your legal interests to note the depth of understanding and professional capability in this response.

Posted

My colleagues are correct. Indictments, even if lengthy, are barebones documents when it comes to listing evidence to support the charges. Discovery tools are available to build your defense. Good luck.

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Posted

You asked a good question. There are two answers. 1. The indictment is supposed to limit the scope of the proof at trial. 2. A defendant is presumed to know what he/she did so that once charged a decision can be made whether to plead early. However, in reality, in federal court one of two things happens. Either the defendant very quickly tries to "cooperate" and either testify against others or make restitution or plead guilty .. or, if the case is overcharged or if the defendant is truly innocent, a very lengthy process of obtaining information, interviewing witnesses precedes any serious resolution discussions. Each case is different and there is a standard pattern for certain cases (like drug conspiracies or embezzlement cases), so, at best you're going to get a general answer. If you're in San Francisco you're in luck. Both the federal public defender and the federal defense bar is superb - maybe the best in the nation. Daniel

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Asker

Posted

May a defendant at their discretion (whether guilty or not) exercise the right to discovery upon being indicted in order to get a better idea of the evidence against them? This way the defendant can accurately with counsel identify areas of weakness or strength in the case and not just plead immediately. This is said based on the defendant being the primary target. Do ausa's try to throw much weight around if they see that a defendant is exercising their right to discovery of the evidence against them vs. immediately pleading guilty?

Posted

In my experience, it depends on the nature of the charge and federal district where the indictment was issued. For example, indictments alleging fraud usually spell out the charges in detail, describing the nature of the scheme and the ways in which the defendant(s) carried it out. On the other hand, federal drug and gun charges are usually alleged in general terms, requiring the defendant and his or her lawyer to get the specifics from the discovery.

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