Maryland Federal Court System
Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has three basic responsibilities for overseeing federal courts in Maryland and across the country. First, Congress authorizes the creation of all federal courts below the Supreme Court level, the jurisdiction of federal courts, and the number of judges. Their second obligation involves handling the confirmation process that determines which of the president’s judicial nominees becomes a federal judge. Budget approval comprises the third responsibility of Congress as it relates to the federal courts. Federal courts in the U.S. are divided into three levels: the United States Supreme Court, the United States Courts of Appeals, and the United States District Court. There are 94 district courts, 13 appeal courts (circuit courts), and one Supreme Court. The District of Maryland has two divisions: the Northern Division located in Baltimore and the Southern Division situated in Greenbelt. If you are charged with a federal crime in Maryland, the case will be tried in the Maryland federal court system. It is important that you hire an experienced attorney who is licensed to practice in federal court, understands federal criminal proceedings, and knows how to defend you against these types of charges.
Crimes Tried in Federal Courts
Federal prosecutors have a number of investigative agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These organizations investigate crimes, obtain evidence, and help prosecutors understand the essentials of a particular case. A federal prosecutor deals with more than 4,500 crimes that can be tried in federal court. Here are just a few of the types of criminal cases that fall within federal codes:
- Drug Crimes: The defendant is accused of drug possession, manufacture, distribution, or trafficking.
- Bank Fraud: This charge accuses the defendant of acting or engaging in a pattern of activity with the intent to defraud a bank of funds.
- Bribery: The defendant faces charges of offering money, goods, services, information, or anything else of value with the intent of influencing the actions, opinions, or decisions of the taker. This applies whether you accept the bribe or offer it.
- Embezzlement: A person who has been entrusted with money or property misappropriates or diverts it for his or her own use and benefit.
- Insurance Fraud: Refers to an act or pattern of activity wherein a person uses deception to obtain proceeds from an insurance company.
- Healthcare / Medicare Fraud: This charge can consist of any number of violations that entail the submission of false claims to the government or fabrication of records to get a false claim paid.
- Tax Crimes: The defendant is accused of fraud in the filing or paying of federal taxes.
- Computer Fraud & Hacking Crimes: The individual is accused of hacking into computers to steal valuable information, such as bank, credit card, and proprietary information.
Other offenses tried in federal court include kickbacks, larceny/theft crimes, firearm, money laundering, racketeering, securities fraud, cybercrimes, public corruption, organized crimes, and crimes against children. Federal court rules and procedures for these types of offenses differ from Maryland state court proceedings.
Understanding Maryland District Court Proceedings
As the primary law enforcement officers for the United States, the Offices of the United States Attorneys handle prosecutions for most Maryland federal criminal cases. The vast majority of these cases are plea bargained, which prevents a trial in exchange for a more lenient sentence. There are a number of differences between the judicial process in a criminal case and civil case tried in federal court. For example, federal prosecutors must present evidence to a grand jury that decides whether sufficient evidence exists for holding a trial. In addition, defendants must undergo post-arrest interview and background investigations, which are conducted by a pretrial services officer or probation officer under the supervision of the court. The results will be reviewed by a judge who will use the data to decide whether or not to release a defendant into the community before the trial commences and, if so, under what conditions.
Burden of Proof in Maryland Federal Criminal Cases
Unlike civil cases, the government has the burden of proving guilt in a criminal case. While a “preponderance of the evidence” is all that is required for a conviction in civil cases, criminal matters require that the prosecutor proves its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the federal government’s evidence must be so strong that there cannot be any “reasonable doubt” that the defendant actually committed the crime.
Penalties for Federal Crimes in Maryland
If the court finds you guilty of the offense, the judge must use special federal sentencing guidelines issued by the United States Sentencing Commission to determine the sentence.
The sentence is usually handed down by the judge in a separate hearing. The judge usually considers the evidence produced during the course of the trial, a pre-sentence report prepared by the probation officer, and any other relevant information provided by the federal prosecutor and defense attorney. Except in cases that require mandatory minimum sentencing, the court can deviate from the sentencing guidelines under extenuating circumstances.
Penalties for federal crimes include prison time, a fine payable to the government, and restitution that must be paid to the victim of the crime.
The Appeal Process for Federal Cases in Maryland
The court of appeals consists of a three-judge panel. Appeals, or “briefs,” are presented in writing and must contain legal arguments to show why the court should reverse the decision. The opposition party or the “appellee” can also submit a brief to support why the decision made by the trial court was the correct verdict.
As it relates to the appeal process, the defendant may appeal a guilty verdict in a criminal case. The “appellant” must demonstrate to the court of appeals that the trial court made a legal error that tarnished its decision. The government cannot appeal a not guilty verdict or retry the case once a defendant has been exonerated. Either party has the right to appeal a sentence levied after a guilty verdict.
Generally, the court of appeals has the final word regarding a case. Sometimes, the case may be returned to the trial court to address certain issues. The parties can also ask the Supreme Court of the United States to take up the case.
If you have come under investigation or been charged with a federal offense, experienced Maryland federal crimes lawyer Kush Arora can look at the evidence and determine if your rights were violated. If so, he will aggressively argue for dismissal of the charges. If the government has strong evidence, he will review various alternatives that can reduce or mitigate any time you may face in prison. Call his Maryland law office today for a free consultation and explore the various defense strategies that may be employed in your case.