Federal Criminal Lawyers in California’s Bay Area

Last Modified: June 18, 2024

Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys In Northern California

Defending All Federal Crimes 

If you have been accused of a federal crime…whether drug trafficking, securities fraud, mail fraud, mortgage fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, or conspiracy to commit those crimes…you need an attorney that handles Federal Crimes.

When are Crimes in the Federal System?

Cases are considered to be federal crimes under two main categories:

  • The crime breaks U.S. Federal Law
  • The crime is committed on federally owned property which may include government buildings, national parks, courts, and airports.

Although there are similarities between state and federal court systems, there are important distinctions between them. For example, state prosecutors prosecute state crimes, while leading lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s office prosecute federal crimes. Unlike cases involving state crimes, cases involving federal crimes often involve federal agents and require extensive investigations.  Federal cases are considered to be “the big leagues” and are only handled by a small subset of criminal defense attorneys.

Summit federal criminal defense attorneys have the expertise and background to defend these cases.

 Call us day or night for a free and confidential case review to discuss your options.

Federal crimes involve violations of Federal laws including crimes that involve interstate contact.  The Doctrine of Dual Sovereignty allows the Federal government to prosecute many crimes that would generally fall under states Jurisdiction.  That is, if a crime involves two or more states, it may be prosecuted by the Federal government.  Many crimes can be prosecuted in State Court or Federal Court.  In rare circumstances, a case may proceed in both State and Federal Court.  In reality, the State Court will usually dismiss a case if the Federal Government gets involved.  Likewise, if the crime occurred on Federal Land, there is a chance that it will be prosecuted by the Federal government.

In reality, Federal Prosecutors are given wide latitude in choosing which cases to prosecute and many Federal prosecutors do not file Federal Charges unless there is a “substantial Federal Interest in prosecution.  Otherwise, the Department of Justice has published a list of criteria for initiating and declining charges in Federal Court assuming provability.

These are:

  1. Federal law enforcement priorities, including any federal law enforcement initiatives or operations aimed at accomplishing those priorities;
  2. The nature and seriousness of the offense;
  3. The deterrent effect of prosecution;
  4. The person’s culpability in connection with the offense;
  5. The person’s history with respect to criminal activity;
  6. The person’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of others;
  7. The person’s personal circumstances;
  8. The interests of any victims; and
  9. The probable sentence or other consequences if the person is convicted.



While the Federal Bureau of Investigation is the main policing arm of the Federal Government, there are several Federal Executive branches with law enforcement agencies including:

  1. The Internal Revenue Service
  2. The Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms
  3. United States Immigration and Costumes Enforcement
  4. The Drug Enforcement Agency
  5. Department of Agriculture
  6. Department of Defense
  7. Department of Energy
  8. Department of Labor
  9. Department of Transportation
  10. Department of Housing and Urban Development



Most Federal Crimes are listed in the Federal Crimes and Penal code (Title 18 of the United States Code)

  • Mail fraud
  • Computer Hacking
  • Bank Robbery/Fraud
  • Extortion
  • Money laundering
  • Counterfeiting
  • Tax evasion
  • RICO
  • Federal gun offenses
  • Insider trading
  • Forgery
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Child pornography
  • Drug trafficking



Fortunately, pre trial release in Federal court can be easier to achieve than in state court.  Much like in state court, offenses carrying a sentence of life, offenses involving violence may not allow for pre trial release.  Likewise, if a defendant presents a “flight risk”, the U.S. Attorney may argue that pre trial release is not appropriate.  However, most other crimes do not require a cash bail.  These issues are flushed out at a “Detention Hearing” held three to five days after the initial court




Unlike State court cases in which a defendant is arrested and has a right to a Preliminary Hearing, most Federal cases proceed with an initial Indictment and, therefore, do not allow for confrontation.   This is because Federal Indictments are presented to a Grand Jury that makes a Probable Cause determination allowing the case to proceed to Trial.


The mere fact of an Indictment does not mean that Defendant was convicted of a crime.  Defendants in Federal Court have a right to a Jury Trial and the government MUST prove each element of the crimes Beyond a reasonable doubt.



The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 describes the time periods in which stages of the Criminal Proceedings must be accomplished.  Most importantly, the Information or Indictment must be filed within 30 days of arrest and once filed, defendant has a right to a Jury Trial within 70 days.



You may have heard the phrase “don’t make a federal case out of this”.  The reason for this phrase is that federal sentencing are notoriously harsh compared with sentencing in state court for similar crimes.  The Federal Sentencing Guidelines as described in 18 U.S. Code section 3553 are meant to provide consistent sentencing but are, frankly, a draconian sentencing scheme that results in very long prison sentences.   The guidelines were passed into law in 1987 and are responsible, in large part, for the Mass Incarceration in American Society.  While these guidelines are “advisory”, court that deviate from the guidelines must be able to articulate a specific reason for the deviation.

Under the Guidelines scheme, there are 43 offense levels and six criminal history levels describing the severity of prior convictions.  One needs to simply look up the base level for the offense as described in the statute, figure out the Criminal History points, and arrive at the final calculation of Months imprisonment.  As the table below shows, an offense listed as offense level 28 for an individual with no prior criminal history will result in a final sentencing calculation of 78 to 97 months.


In most Federal cases, the parties will enter into a Plea Agreement in which defendants entered a plea to either the charged offense of a LESSER OFFENSE, in return for a promise that the government will dismiss other charges and will not charge other offenses.

Like all other Criminal Prosecutions, Federal Plea agreements depend on several factors including:

1.      The defendant’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of others;

2.      The defendant’s history with respect to criminal activity;

3.      The nature and seriousness of the offense or offenses charged;

4.      The defendant’s remorse or contrition and his/her willingness to assume responsibility for his/her conduct;

5.      The desirability of prompt and certain disposition of the case;

6.     The likelihood of obtaining a conviction at trial;

7.      The probable effect on witnesses;

8.      The probable sentence or other consequences if the defendant is convicted;

9.      The public interest in having the case tried rather than disposed of by a guilty plea;

10.   The expense of trial and appeal;

11.    The need to avoid delay in the disposition of other pending cases; and

12.   The interests of the victim, including any effect upon the victim’s right to restitution.



The government can present the court with Aggravating circumstances and argue that the court should impose a sentence higher than those listed in the guidelines.  Likewise, defense counsel can argue that Mitigating Circumstances warrant a downward departure.  In addition, A court, therefore, can deviate from the guidelines but must articulate the reason in writing.  This is why it is crucial that you have a Bay Area Federal Defense attorney on your side.  Downward departures may be based on:

1.      Defendant’s Cooperation.

2.      Defendant’s Criminal History.

3.      Nature and Seriousness of Offense Charged.

4.     Defendant’s Attitude.



Section 5K1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines allows the United States to file a pleading with the sentencing court, which permits the court to depart below the indicated guideline, on the basis that the defendant provided substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another. Authority to approve such pleadings is limited to the United States Attorney, the Chief Assistant United States Attorney, and supervisory criminal Assistant United States Attorneys, or a committee including at least one of these individuals.



It may be possible to avoid Federal charges if the circumstances warrant. A Bay Area Federal Defender may be able to convince the Assistant US attorney to consider non prosecution by pointing out the following:

  1. The importance of the investigation or prosecution to an effective program of law enforcement, or consideration of other national security or governmental interests;
  2. The value of the person’s cooperation to the investigation or prosecution;
  3. The person’s relative culpability in connection with the offense or offenses being investigated or prosecuted and his/her history with respect to criminal activity; and
  4. The interests of any victims.



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