There are many significant differences between prosecution by the State (that is, the District Attorney's office of the local County) and prosecution by the Federal Government (the Office of the United States Attorney or the United States Department of Justice). Criminal conduct that violates a federal statute will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney's office. Such crimes include:
RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) violations
Mail Fraud/Wire Fraud
Trafficking in Controlled Substances
But, beware: conduct that violates a state criminal statute, might also violate a federal statute. And both the state and the federal governments can prosecute separately. Double jeopardy does not apply when you are prosecuted by different governing bodies.
While a defendant in a state criminal prosecution is protected by the same constitutional rights as a defendant in a federal criminal case, the procedures followed in state court differ from that in federal court.
The first difference is in how a criminal case is brought in federal court. Most criminal cases are indicted by a Grand Jury. A Grand Jury proceeding is not the trial. The government does not present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a secret proceeding. Only the government, the witnesses, and the Grand Jury members themselves know what happens in the Grand Jury room. And the law prohibits the disclosure of Grand Jury Proceedings by anyone except a witness.
The target of the Grand Jury does not have any right to present evidence in his or her defense. In fact, the target may never know that he or she is in fact the target. Witnesses, including the target, are not even allowed to be represented by a lawyer inside the Grand Jury room.
Initial Appearance in Federal Court
The Initial Appearance is the first time a defendant will go to court. This is a court hearing to address the question of bail, to advise the defendant of his or her rights, to make sure that the defendant has a lawyer or to see if the defendant qualifies for appointed counsel.
Although every defendant in a criminal case has the right to have a lawyer, the defendant must financially qualify to have the court appoint a lawyer at no cost. You do not qualify for appointed counsel simply because the lawyer you want to hire is too expensive.
Also the question of bail will be addressed at the first appearance. Bail is different in state and federal court. In federal court, bail is handled differently. There is no bail schedule. The court must make a determination of bail for each defendant individually. The court must decide what bail is appropriate and what conditions of release should be imposed.
The arraignment is the court proceeding where the defendant enters a plea. Most often in both state and federal court, the defendant enters a "not guilty" plea at the arraignment. The arraignment is early on in the process, and often the defendant and his or her lawyer have not had enough time to evaluate the case, review the evidence, and discuss possible plea agreements with the prosecution.
The arraignment is also the start for the defendant's speedy trial rights. In state court, a defendant has the right, but not the obligation, to be brought to trial within 60 days of the felony arraignment. In federal court, the case must be brought to trial within 70 days of the arraignment unless the court finds good reason to allow more time.