Federal Crime FAQ

Anyone facing federal criminal charges needs to understand that the stakes are high. Federal government agencies such as the FBI typically conduct thorough investigations before bringing formal criminal charges, and the penalties for federal convictions are often far more severe than the penalties handed down in state courts.

If you have been indicted for a federal offense in Texas — or if you are under investigation by federal authorities — it is crucial that you secure legal counsel as soon as possible. Our San Antonio criminal defense lawyers have the knowledge, experience and resources you need to fight for your rights and freedom.

Arrange a confidential consultation with an experienced and aggressive criminal law attorney. Contact Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, PLLC, today.

A federal agency is investigating me. What should I do?

Do not talk to investigators. Exercise your right to remain silent. If you are under investigation, or if you only suspect that you are under investigation, the first thing you need to do is contact an attorney. Again, do not talk to investigators. Contact us.

How do I choose a lawyer to handle my federal case?

Not every criminal defense lawyer defends against federal charges or is admitted to handle cases in federal court. You need a criminal defense attorney who has experience in federal courts in Texas. Our firm can handle a wide variety of federal crime cases, including:

In fact, our firm has a reputation for providing aggressive and effective defense in the most difficult types of cases.

What are the possible penalties for a federal conviction?

In short, the possible penalties for a federal conviction will depend on the facts of your specific case. However, very heavy penalties are possible under federal sentencing guidelines, and federal judges have discretion to increase those penalties even more under certain circumstances.

Depending on the charge in question, the penalties for a federal conviction could range from a few months in federal prison to life in federal prison. Certain offenses — abduction, for example — can lead to an increased sentence, while in other cases, there may be factors that result in a reduced sentence.

Again, to secure the best possible outcome in your case, it is crucial that you immediately obtain legal counsel. There is no time to waste in building a strong defense.

Can I get out on bond if I'm charged with a federal crime? Do federal courts have bail?

Federal courts do not use a "bail" system involving payment of large fees or use of private bonding companies. Instead, they have a system in which eligible persons can be released into the community pending resolution of their case. The first step in getting bond is talking to the Pretrial Services Officer. Many defendants and their families will avoid communication with federal officers after getting arrested by the feds, but the Pretrial Services Officer is looking to gather information and prepare a report to the judge regarding bond. While it might be good to have an attorney present for these interviews, don't blow off the Pretrial guy. Be as polite as possible.

Not all defendants are eligible for pretrial release. Many federal charges require detention. However, if you are granted a bond and released, you can expect to be monitored and to have conditions you need to follow. These can range from house arrest to being restricted from cell phone use. Following these rules helps show the court that you are taking your case seriously.

How soon will I find out if I can get federal bond? How fast can I get released from federal custody before trial? What are my chances of getting released?

You will be reviewed for release very quickly, generally at an arraignment or detention hearing. Arraignment is required within 10 days of your arrest. Your chances depend on a huge number of factors. You may request a federal detention hearing if your circumstances change or appeal an initial denial of release. However, if you are barred from pretrial release by law, then even the judge can't help you. It is important consult an experienced federal criminal lawyer quickly if you want to seek pretrial release from federal custody. Your lawyer will need time to prepare.

What are the federal sentencing guidelines?

From 1987 until 2005, defendants found guilty in U.S. federal court were punished according to the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("USSG"). The USSG manual contained the rules for determining the range within which the judge's sentence had fall. Factors that went into the determination included the offense for which the defendant was convicted; certain factors about the offense such as how much money was involved in a financial crime, the role of the defendant in the overall scheme and other factors concerning the defendant's conduct; and the defendant's criminal record. The court was required to sentence within the applicable guideline range (expressed in a range of months) unless the case was extremely unusual or qualified for one of the few exceptions allowing the judge to depart from the guidelines. Guideline sentencing was a complicated aspect of federal criminal cases.

However, the United States Supreme Court, in January 2005, declared the mandatory nature of the guidelines unconstitutional. Now, the United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual is merely advisory. In practice, however, most federal judges follow the USSG closely. Federal criminal lawyers can help calculate your USSG range and will often challenge the government's sentencing calculations.

How do I calculate my USSG range or federal sentencing range?

We don't really recommend you do that. The sentencing guidelines use a complex point system. There are 43 "levels" of federal offenses. There are four "sentencing zones." The zones range from a sentence of between 0 - 6 months in prison up to a life sentence. You may also be given extra points (increasing your sentence) or have points removed based on a large number of exceptions — whether you have a prior record, a gun was used, the amount of money involved, whether you cooperate with the feds. Even lawyers argue about whether a certain exception might apply in a particular case. For example, a "leader/organizer" will have points added, but determining who is really a leader or organizer of criminal activity is often the toughest part a federal agent's job. So, we highly recommend that you consult a good federal attorney and understand that calculating federal sentencing guideline ranges is a process that can evolve over time.

Should I fight my federal case to a jury? I hate these feds and I'm not a snitch!

Well over 90% of federal criminal cases result in a plea deal instead of a trial. The feds are pretty good at building cases and have far more resources than state cops. Don't lock yourself into a position until you see the evidence. The decision to take a deal, or not, is a big one. At Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, PLLC, we'd love more federal jury trials. The courtrooms are nicer and they have cooler stuff.

The reality is that most of our clients will direct us to get the best deal possible. That doesn't necessarily mean cooperating with the guys who arrested you, but if you want that sweet, sweet deal, we won't judge. At Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, PLLC, our clients' needs come first. Our experience means we can be your guide through federal plea bargaining or your warriors in trial.

I got arrested on post for DWI. How is a federal DWI or DUI different from a state or civilian DWI?

Well, this depends on how you came to be on post. If you merely trashed some fencing after losing control of your vehicle while on a road near the base, then your case may get rejected by the feds and sent to state court. If you are military and stationed on that post, then your case likely stays federal even if you didn't make it past the gatehouse. In that case, you may face Article 15 issues as well as the civilian federal prosecution.

The upside of a federal DWI is that federal prosecutors have less experience trying DWIs and federal judges actually read defense briefs. You may have an opponent who isn't up to snuff when the judge has high expectations. The bad news is that you won't be getting a jury unless your DWI managed to be a federal felony (which is just bad). Some AUSAs (Assistant U.S. Attorneys) are getting better at DWI practice, but few stay near the cutting edge. For more information on DWI/DUI, read our DWI FAQ.

Another difference is in the law governing DWIs in federal court. Texas law allows for a variety of defensive tactics that are not available in federal court. On the other hand, federal procedure is more exacting than Texas criminal procedure. You need an experienced DWI lawyer to maximize your edge on the prosecutor and an experienced federal lawyer. At Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, PLLC, we can provide both.

Contact Our San Antonio Law Firm

For a confidential consultation regarding your goals and concerns, call 210-570-9902 or contact us online. At Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, PLLC, our clients are our top priority.