In the federal system, most people charged with non-violent offenses are released on conditions after their first appearance before a magistrate judge. Conditions of release are meant to reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant in court as required, as well as the safety of any other person or the community pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3142(c). Conditions may be as simple as release on an unsecured appearance bond (meaning no property or money is posted); travel restricted to the continental United States; surrender of one’s passport; surrender of any firearms; and telephonic or in-person reporting to Pretrial Services. In certain serious cases, conditions of release could be very stringent, requiring home detention with electronic monitoring where the person is only allowed out of the home for pre-approved visits with their attorney or medical appointments; surrender of family members’ passports; the posting of real properties with substantial equity; and release of the defendant to third party custodians who are required to report any violations of the release conditions to the court.
We receive many calls over the course of the year from potential clients, telling us they received a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office or State Attorney General’s Office and that they are considering whether to go to an interview with law enforcement under a “proffer agreement.”
Recent statistics show that about 96% of the criminal cases in federal court are resolved through guilty pleas. The number of cases going to trial has dramatically decreased in the past ten years. Thus, today’s criminal defense attorneys must be adept at negotiating the best possible resolution for their clients that choose to plead guilty.
Anyone facing a federal sentencing knows how difficult and daunting the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines can be for many types of crimes. For financial crimes, the amount of loss, number of victims, complexity of the scheme and the like can quickly ratchet someone with no prior offenses into the 10+ year range. With a system that does not allow for early release on parole, like most states, and that credits a defendant with only 54 days a year good time credit, sentencing in the federal system can be particularly harsh.
Much has been written about Paul Manafort’s conviction at his first trial, the potential decades long sentence, and his sudden plea and cooperation deal shortly before his second trial was scheduled to begin. This sequence of events alone is unusual as most defendants decide to cooperate in an effort to reduce their potential sentence well-prior to trial. Moreover, most federal prosecutors do not want to cooperate with a defendant who has contested charges, gone to trial and lost. Most unusual, and damaging to Manafort, is his apparent violation or beach of the cooperation agreement by his alleged lies to the government.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) operates from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and has 11 regional offices. It’s Division of Enforcement investigates cases and recommends to the Commission cases to be brought against individuals and entities. Investigations can begin through whistleblowers, news articles, referrals from other agencies, complaints from the public or data derived from market surveillance.
A federal or state agent or detective knocks on your door at 6 a.m. and serves you with a grand jury subpoena for documents and/or testimony. Do you simply gather the documents requested and send them to the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the County Prosecutor’s Office, or do you retain experienced criminal defense counsel? If the subpoena requires testimony, what rights do you have?
President Trump tweeted that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and “fixer”, won’t flip on him. Putting aside for the moment why the President would say this if Cohen didn’t have incriminating evidence against him - because one could only “flip” on someone if they did - let’s examine why people charged with crimes cooperate with law enforcement.
While most people would say that you should retain a criminal defense lawyer once you are charged with a state or federal crime, the answer is not that straightforward. In many instances, an individual or company will learn that there is an active, pending investigation into their activities. They might be contacted by law enforcement for an interview; they might be served with a grand jury subpoena for documents and/or testimony; they might learn that business associates and customers have been interviewed by law enforcement; they might receive a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office; or they might be tipped off by their friendly banker that their financial records have been subpoenaed.
Much has been written and tweeted about this past week concerning this topic. Politics aside for the moment, what does the government need to demonstrate to a court that a place should be searched, or a person’s phone calls should be intercepted?