Federal Criminal Defense Attorney for Austin and Waco
Russ Hunt Jr. has represented clients in hundreds of federal cases across central Texas courts, mostly in Austin, Waco and Fort Hood. Most people correctly assume that the federal criminal system is very different from the state criminal justice system. While most everyone knows someone who has been arrested for a state criminal offense, federal prosecutions are much more rare and comparatively few people even know anyone who has experienced them firsthand. However, the federal criminal system shares many common or similar features to the state system, and an experienced federal criminal defense attorney like Russ can help decipher this complex system.
- Murder and Capital Murder,
- High level drug crimes,
- Federal weapons offenses,
- Immigration offenses,
- Matters involving national security issues,
- Child pornography crimes,
- Marriage fraud,
- Mail and wire fraud,
- Large scale financial crimes such as mortgage fraud.
Russ also practices regularly in the federal court at Fort Hood where he has handled a significant number of federal misdemeanor charges including:
- DWI on a military installation,
- Unlawful entry onto a military installation,
- Assault on a military installation,
- Unlawful archaeological excavation on federal property,
- Injury to a child on federal property,
- Theft of government property.
Federal Criminal Defense
Federal criminal charges are different than charges in state court. Most people know something of how things work in state court, if only through television shows. Federal court is different.
If you're facing federal charges, you should know what these differences are. You should hire a lawyer who knows what the differences are too. If you'd like to talk to a lawyer with experience in federal court, call Russ at (512) 930-0860.
Here are several major differences between state court criminal charges and federal criminal charges:
- The Prosecutors are Different
- The Judges are Different
- The Court's Schedule is Different
- Bail is Different
- The Jury Pool is Different
- Sentencing is Different
Federal prosecutors are called Assistant United States Attorneys. AUSA's generally have fewer cases than state prosecutors and they are able to spend more time working on the cases they bring. This enables federal prosecutors to pre-screen their cases much more than state prosecutors do. Once a case is charged in federal court, a federal prosecutor has already decided that case is one that he or she is giving attention to and is worth prosecuting.
By contrast, in state court the police usually decide who to charge and the state prosecutor generally is not involved in the initial arrest or charging decision. That's not what normally happens in federal court. It is very common for, federal prosecutors to work alongside federal law enforcement agents as cases are being developed. By the time you find out that you've been charged with a federal crime, the AUSA has probably been investigating you for weeks, months or even longer. They may have already drafted court orders for wiretaps or GPS monitoring; they may have helped debrief cooperating sources; they may have obtained and reviewed financial records or communication records such as the contents of webmail accounts, cellphone location data or social media accounts. The chances are pretty strong that the AUSA knows much more about a person charged once an individual becomes aware that he is a target than a state court prosecutor will ever learn about the great majority of state court defendants.
Federal crimes are heard by federal judges. There are two kinds of federal judges that will be involved in any federal felony.
First, there are United States Magistrate Judges. A magistrate judge will likely be the first judge you appear in front of after you are arrested on federal charges. A federal magistrate judge may also hear some motions in your case. A magistrate judge is appointed to a term of years, has limited jurisdiction, and works at the direction of the presiding United States District Judge.
The second kind of judge is a United States District Judge. These judges are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. A federal district court judge serves for life, and can only be removed by being impeached by the Senate. These judges hear all kinds of federal law cases, from constitutional challenges to statutes, to interstate contractual matters, to intellectual property claims, to federal criminal charges.
A federal district court judge has many fewer cases than most state court judges. In state court, many cases are set for the same court hearing. This rarely happens in federal court. If you have a court hearing in federal court, normally your case is the only one that will be heard at that time.
If you have a trial set in federal court, your case is almost always the only case set for trial in front of that judge on that day.
Because state court trial days are unpredictable, sometimes, in state court, you can simply wait until the last minute and the prosecutor won't be ready. In state court, the judge will then sometimes dismiss the case. By contrast, cases are almost never dismissed in federal court because the prosecutor isn't ready. Because everyone knows that on the day of trial the trial will start, the AUSA will make sure that his or her witnesses are present and ready.
Another important difference beween state courts in Texas and federal courts is that the federal system has a very real speedy trial law. The information or indictment in federal court must be filed within 30 days from the date of arrest or service of the summons, and the trial must commence within 70 days from the date the information or indictment was filed, or from the date the defendant appears before an officer of the court in which the charge is pending, whichever is later. It is not unusual for serious cases in state court to drag on for a year or more. Only the most serious federal cases involving voluminous discovery, like wiretaps or account records, will be extended much beyond the speedy trial act's requirements.
In state court, bail is often simply a question of coming up with the money and collateral to pay a bail bondsman to post the bond. In federal court, by contrast, the judge will impose conditions of release, and supervision by an officer in a federal pretrial services office so normally a person either gets a personal recognizance bond or the person has to post a large amount of cash to secure his release. Despite posting the cash, the defendant will still have to report to pretrial services and follow strict rules of release.
Pretrial release conditions will likely require you to check in frequently with the pretrial services officer, receive mental health testing or treatment, and submit to a review of your financial information – particularly when a white-collar crime is charged.
Sometimes, if someone is a more serious risk of flight or a danger the community, the court may require that the person live at home on electronic monitoring, with a GPS monitor. This is becoming more frequent when the person who is accused of a crime has significant contacts outside of the United States.
In state court, the jury pool comes from people who are in the same county as the court. Potential federal jurors, on the other hand, come from the judicial district or judicial division where the court is located. Federal judicial districts in Texas always include a number of counties and these districts can extend for hundreds of miles from the location of the court.
In every federal district court, the jurors in federal court come from a more geographically diverse area than in state court. A crime charged in federal court in Austin, for example, may have a jury panel including many citizens living outside the Austin metro area and extending into the rural areas in surrounding counties.
Federal sentencing is based on the federal sentencing guidelines and a host of federal laws that govern how a sentenced is to be imposed in federal court. These laws can include draconian mandatory minimum sentences and obscure enhancement provisions that can radically increase a person's sentence.
These are technical areas of the law that are tremendously complex. Russ has decades of experience dealing with federal trial and sentencing issues in Austin, Waco and Fort Hood federal courts--he understands how this system works and will work with you to achieve the lowest possible sentence in the event that you are convicted.
Russ Hunt, Jr. is known for powerful, compassionate representation.
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