Whether a criminal case goes to federal or state trial depends largely on which court has jurisdiction, or authority, to hear the case. Federal courts abide by the U.S. Constitution with limited jurisdiction, while state courts are established by state laws and are of general jurisdiction. Let’s go over the federal trial process together.
A case would be tried in federal court if a federal law was violated, as well as if the crime took place on federal land or if the amount involved in a state case exceeds a certain limit. Federal courts are also structured differently than state courts, with several key differences in the trial process.
The Federal Trial Process
The federal court system is mapped into 94 individual jurisdictions, each with at least one district court. Georgia has three federal districts (the southern, middle, and northern districts), so a federal trial in Georgia would fall within the jurisdiction where the alleged crime took place.
The federal trial process typically consists of seven to eight steps:
In many federal cases, a thorough investigation has already been completed by the time a warrant is issued for your arrest. An investigation could be in the works for several months or years without your knowledge, where evidence is gathered and probable cause is established.
In felony cases, an attorney has also obtained a formal grand jury indictment against you prior to your arrest. An indictment is a formal charge that you have committed a serious crime.
Once the charges against you are made official, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and you will be taken into custody.
4. Initial Appearance in the Federal Trial Process
Your initial hearing will be held in front of a federal magistrate judge, where you will be arraigned and enter a plea to the charges.
More About Initial Appearances:
Criminal procedure starts with the defendant’s first appearance in front of a judge, also called the “initial appearance.” The initial appearance allows the arresting officer to provide an overview of the arrest to the court. During this appearance, the prosecution announces all of the charges being brought against the defendant. This hearing is called arraignment, where the defendant will then be asked to submit a plea.
If the defendant has not yet been bailed out of jail, he or she will be brought in front of a judge within 48-hours for an initial appearance. If the defendant has been bailed out, however, this appearance can happen several days or weeks later.
For state and superior courts, there is usually only one arraignment during the criminal prosecution. In municipal court, however, there can be several before a case is resolved. This gives the state attorney the option to respond to any discovery requests that may be made.
What Happens During Arraignment?
Aside from hearing all charges brought against the defendant, the initial appearance also allows for a reading of rights and appointment of an attorney. The defendant is required to file all motions either before or during arraignment, making it crucial to have a skilled attorney present to assist.
An attorney can also waive arraignment, meaning all motions and a plea of “not guilty” are filed before the defendant has to appear in-person. This is a more common option, as most arrestees do not need to have charges explained.
5. Discovery in the Federal Trial Process
After your initial appearance, documentation will be released containing the information that has been collected by the court to be used against you. This will allow your attorney to begin forming your defense.
More About Discovery:
Discovery is the process through which evidence is introduced to the court and made available to be presented at the trial. While testimonies and witnesses often dominate the trial process that is shown on TV, discovery is where most of the relevant information is introduced.
A World of Evidence (If You Know Where To Look)
Evidence varies widely depending on the trial. If it is a criminal case, a defense team will be focused on proving their client innocent so proving an alibi or the impossibility that their client committed the crime is often the focus. In a civil lawsuit, the evidence can be extremely diverse.
Evidence could be:
• Expert testimony
• Statements or proof of past behavior of someone involved in the case.
• Video or audio recordings.
• Items or objects.
These are a few examples, but really whatever the defense or prosecution deems necessary can be found and introduced during the discovery process.
In many ways, a strong legal defense hinges on the discovery process. It is there that our team at Wadkins & Wallace begins to build our defense, and we find information that helps us shape these arguments and persuade the court.
6. Pre-Trial Phase
This phase is composed of motions and conferences. Plea-trial motions and plea-bargaining happens during this stage, when applicable. Since strong cases are already built against the defendant in most federal trials, it may be in your best interest to work with your attorney to accept a plea deal.
The trial will take place in one of the three federal district courts in Georgia with appropriate jurisdiction. Both sides will present their cases in front of a jury, including evidence, cross-examination, and opening and closing statements.
8. Post-Trial Appeals/Sentencing:
If found guilty, your attorney may start the appeals process soon after sentencing.
The federal trial process tends to move more quickly than state trials, requiring that you have a skilled defense attorney on your side. To learn more about how Wadkins & Wallace, P.C. can help you, call (706) 221-9451 or schedule a free review of your case online.