The U.S. constitution makes pre-trial release, called bail or bond, a right. That right exists more in the law then for those arrested in South Florida and charged in federal court. U.S. District Courts are in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Federal courts are for cases and controversies of limited jurisdiction in civil matters and have exclusive jurisdictions for violations of federal criminal laws. The bulk of those arrested in Florida and brought before federal judges are drug importation and distribution charges (known as trafficking in Florida courts), immigration arrests, wire fraud, money laundering and an increasing number of federal arrests for violations of our Patriots Act (terrorist related charges). If you have been arrested and charged in a federal court the first judicial officer you’ll see is a U.S. Magistrate. Magistrate’s handle all bond, bail (pre-trial release) matters. In federal court you can be held in custody for three days simply on the request of the U.S. Attorneys’ Office. This is called pre-trial detention. The statute to read is U.S.C. 3142(f), the federal “first appearance” statute. For most your detention hearing is also the first appearance hearing. Magistrates in South Florida will rarely grant release on any condition if the charges involves drug trafficking in any amount more than person use amounts, weapons charges and charges brought under the Patriots Act. In the fall of 2010 a Boynton Beach Police Officer arrested by the U.S. and charged with drug trafficking was granted bail and fled to Brazil. As a result of that the Magistrates’ are ever more skeptical of granting any pre-trial release conditions, even though the right is embedded in the Constitution. Most defendants who are granted pre-trial release are able to do it because their South Florida Criminal defense attorney worked with the Assistant United States Attorney (the prosecutor in federal courts) and came before the Magistrate with an agreed set of conditions. If you are arrested and charged in Federal court you should insist on an experienced federal criminal lawyer from the day of your arrest.
Florida‘s Punishment Code
In 1988 The Florida Legislature enacted The Florida Sentencing Guidelines following the lead of the Federal government’s Sentencing Guidelines. The Legislature hoped to rationalize sentences by creating an arithmetical formula for sentencing and limited judicial discretion. Now, someone convicted of drug trafficking, or possession of cocaine, or even a probation violation, would be sentenced the same throughout the State of Florida. South Florida sends the greatest number of people to prison and has been studied for the similarity of sentencing. The sentencing guidelines, now called the Punishment Code lists each crime, from assault to witness tampering, assigns it a category or range and requires judges to sentence in accord with the punishment code. There was, and remains, at outcry against the punishment code for two reasons: firstly racial minorities are statistically over-represented in the prison population and the punishment code continues that disparity. Secondly, the individual’s need for punishment by prison sentence precludes a judge’s ability to fashion punishments that are not compliant with the legislative scheme: this often creates over-harsh sentencing and injustices. A Judge can be harsher than the code but cannot go under the code unless the judge follows a limited and prescribed number of reasons for a downward departure. Your South Florida criminal defense lawyer can explain to you the system for scoring and computing felony sentences in Florida.
THE BRADY BUNCH IN FEDERAL COURT
The friendly antics of the Brady Bunch family and TV land has nothing to do with the realities, the cold realities of criminal proseuctions in federal courts. In the public view federal courts are where our civil and constitutional rights are preserved. It is even more common for people to believe that federal court is where state court abuses are corrected. True a generation ago but not true today. Florida State criminal courts have championed fair trial rights, and left the federal courts in the dust, mingled in the dust of the lost souls who were convicted in federal criminal courts, in many cases wrongly. Florida criminal courts, Miami Fort Lauderdale West Palm Beach, give criminal defendants the right to see evidence that exonerates them. If you are arrested for drug trafficking, or any serious felony and come before a Florida criminal Court you have the right to compel the government to turn over to you evidence that might prove your innocence. Florida criminal courts find the legal basis for these rights in a federal case called Brady versus Maryland. In it a federal court ruled that defendants have the right to information that would aid in their defense, information in the possession of the state of Florida must be turned over. Any South Florida criminal defense attorney will tell you that in Florida criminal courts you will receive a discovery package in which the government turns over to you any information they have which might aid in your defense. In federal court the Brady case has been largely forgotten and ignored by the federal rules of criminal procedure. Ask your South Florida criminal defense attorney for more information about a defendant's rights in Florida criminal courts
Criminal prosecutions, like skirt heights, seem to go up and down with the economy. White collar crimes, such as money laundering, telemarketing fraud, embezzlement, counterfeiting, kickbacks and honest services fraud cases are increasing in federal court. Criminal law doesn’t change, but prosecutors in federal court focus on certain crimes when the economy changes. And things have changed. Derivatives dissolved but security fraud cases have gone up, as have other federal prosecutions. Criminal defense lawyers have seen federal court white collar crimes become an increasing focus of federal prosecutors in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. If you are a “person of interest” in a federal or state criminal inquiry, call for a consultation. Know your rights and understand the process and gain some insight into how your constitution works and how the police can twist the constitution until most criminal lawyers can’t believe we are all in the same country under the same constitution. Knowledge is power.
Here are a few questions to ask when you are interviewing to hire a federal criminal lawyer:
1. Does he/she have a PACER CM/ECF number? If the answer is “what’s a PACER CM/ECF number? Hang up the phone and call the next lawyer on your list.
2. Does he/she have a subscription to the publication ‘Florida Law Weekly Federal’, it’s expensive and most lawyers won’t pay the $500.00 yearly cost, but if he/she doesn’t read it weekly then he/she is definitely NOT on top the law and federal criminal law IS CONSTANTLY changing.
3. How many federal cases are active in his/her office? Most competent and active federal criminal lawyers have, at a minimum, five active cases in federal court. Don’t bother to ask their success at trial because most federal trials end up in conviction because federal courts have become famous for railroading defendants into convictions.
Winning in a federal criminal prosecution is only a possibility if your federal criminal lawyer is a wiz on procedure, can nail evidentiary issues hard and fast, and has earned the respect (and fear) of Assistant United States Attorneys in the local federal criminal courts. Power in Federal court is earned by fighting and winning motions and procedural issues. Federal court can be a sinkhole if your Florida criminal lawyer isn’t a real federal criminal lawyer, and that means in court, in front of judges and dealing with federal court cases in a significant number of cases. At a minimum it should be 30% of a criminal lawyer’s practice before they can be a real federal criminal lawyer and not a local lawyer trying to grab-off a case that is beyond their capabilities.
Federal criminal defense attorneys in Florida appear before the federal district courts in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Federal criminal prosecutions require defense lawyers who are skilled in federal criminal practice, know the law and statues for federal crimes, have defended white collar crimes such as mortgage fraud, money laundering, cash transaction reporting statutes, wire fraud, federal drug trafficking and drug possession law, know the federal evidence code and federal criminal court rules. A Florida federal criminal lawyer, to be effective, should know federal criminal laws backward and forward: something that comes from years in federal criminal courts. Federal criminal lawyers learn their skills by appearing in federal criminal courts, defending those accused of federal crimes in Florida and out of Florida. [this article continues on page 2 ]