Federal Criminal Defense FAQ

TARGET LETTERS

Q: I have received a letter from the United States telling me I'm under investigation. What should I do?

A: If you have received a "target letter" from the United States, DO NOT IGNORE IT. The letter should be seen as an opportunity to address a problem in a direct and strategic fashion. The government's interest in your situation will not simply go away, even if you do not hear from them again for years. In many situations, prosecution can be avoided by meeting with the government and providing proof that you have not committed a crime or are a witness to a crime. However, you should hire an attorney who is experienced with federal criminal law to assist you in this process. Speaking with prosecutors or agents by yourself may lead to confusion and more evidence being gathered to use in a prosecution. Jonathan Rose has assisted many clients in successfully avoiding federal prosecution, especially in allegations of wire fraud, mail fraud, bid rigging, and "Ponzi" schemes.

SENTENCING

Q: What is the federal government's successful prosecution rate?

A: Almost all criminal cases filed in federal court result in a conviction of some sort. According to the most recent Department of Justice statistics, over 99 percent of cases filed in the Middle District of Florida (Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers) resulted in some form of conviction. Conviction rates vary among the districts, but virtually all are above 95 percent.

Q: Should I accept a plea agreement in my federal criminal case?

A: As the vast majority of federal criminal cases result in some form of guilty plea, most defendants in federal criminal cases enter into plea agreements with the United States. However, in many instances, it is not in the client's best interest to enter into a plea agreement with the United States. Plea agreements in federal court often have very little or absolutely no impact on what a client's sentence will eventually be. They do, however, completely prevent you from appealing your sentence in most circumstances. It is extremely important that your lawyer has a thorough understanding of federal sentencing and procedure to ensure that you make the best decisions possible to protect yourself and your future.

Q: What is a presentence investigation report and why is it important?

A: The presentence investigation report, often referred to as a "PSR" or "PSI" is possibly the most important aspect of federal sentencing. The PSR is a lengthy document, generated by the United States Probation Office, that provides a thorough overview of the facts of the case, the client's personal and medical background, criminal history, and, most importantly, provides a very important recommendation to the Court about the client's sentence. However, the client has the opportunity to object to any recommendation that he or she feels is improper or inaccurate. Any objections that are not resolved prior to sentencing will be argued before the district judge during the sentencing hearing. In many cases, these objections must be resolved by the judge during the sentencing hearing. This results in a great deal of uncertainty in some cases about what a client's exact sentence will actually be. Due to the complexity of this process, it is imperative to hire an attorney who is experienced and well versed in federal sentencing hearings.

Q: What are the Sentencing Guidelines and how do they affect me?

A: The United States Sentencing Guidelines are an extensive, complex series of rules that play a huge rule in defining one's sentence in federal court. The sentencing guidelines consider many factors, but common issues are the client's criminal history, how serious the crime is (determined in drug cases primarily by quantity and in fraud cases by amount of loss), relevant conduct, the client's role in the offense, any enhancements that may apply based on the criminal history, any assistance the client has given the government, and specific issues about the client, his health, or his family that the Court may take into consideration. The Guidelines can be quite complex, frequently referring to other guidelines or federal criminal statutes. An experienced federal criminal attorney can help you know what to expect when sentenced.

Q: What is relevant conduct?

A: Relevant conduct is a concept in the Sentencing Guidelines that allows a judge to hold a client responsible for not only his or her own conduct, but the conduct of others in a conspiracy or criminal enterprise. It also allows a judge to sentence a client based on uncharged conduct and even conduct for which the client was acquitted at trial. It is extremely important for clients to understand relevant conduct to make informed and intelligent decisions about their cases.

Q: What is a conspiracy and what is required to prove that someone participated in a conspiracy?

A: Federal prosecutors frequently charge crimes in which multiple people are involved as conspiracies. A conspiracy is nothing more than an agreement to break the law. This means that in order to prove a conspiracy, the government only needs to prove that two or more people agreed in some way to break the law. The agreement does not need to be specific and is usually proven by circumstantial evidence. Possibly the hardest thing for clients to understand when charged with a conspiracy is that the government does not need to prove that anyone in the conspiracy actually committed the offense. They only need to prove the plan to commit the offense. This means that clients can be convicted and sentenced based on crimes that were never actually committed, or if no physical evidence of the crime exists. Another concept that justifiably troubles clients is that every co-conspirator can be held responsible for the actions of all the other co-conspirators, even if they did not know what the other person was doing. Since this can potentially lead to unduly harsh and even unfair sentences, it is extremely important to understand how federal conspiracy laws apply to your case.