If you stand accused of a federal crime, a federal prosecutor will make the decision about how to charge you and what to charge you with. This blog post will introduce you to some basic information about who prosecutors are, what powers they have, and how they decide to take the kinds of action they do against criminal defendants like you.
The federal government assigns prosecutors to represent the interests of US citizens — to advocate for justice. Top federal prosecutors are known as United States Attorneys. These individuals get appointed by the President and approved by the Congress and U.S. Senate. 93 United States Attorney serve at any given time — one for each federal district. These attorneys get help from Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs), who do a lot of the groundwork to prepare cases. AUSAs establish facts to the federal jury, interview people about the crime committed, gather information, and so forth. The Assistant United States Attorney will work in conjunction with investigating agencies (such as the FBI, DEA, US Secret Service, etc.). Based on what he or she gathers from talking to these agencies — and from other research — the prosecutor will determine whether direct or circumstantial evidence exists to bring a case.
Direct evidence constitutes things like videotape of the defendant committing the offense or sworn testimony from eyewitnesses that the defendant committed a criminal act.
Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, is more indirect. Such evidence might include, for instance, witness testimony from someone who didn’t see the crime but who interacted with the defendant on the night in question.
Choosing whether to charge — and what to charge
A federal prosecutor may make the decision to indict a defendant based on many factors. Here are a few of them:
* Whether the government has assembled enough evidence to bring a “strong case” against the defendant * The nature and severity of the crime * Whether the individual worked in collaboration with others (a so-called “conspiracy”)
* Whether the defendant has a prior criminal record
* Whether the defendant caused serious property damage or injuries/deaths
* The likelihood — based on evidence and past experience — that the prosecution will win (putting on a federal case can get quite expensive)
Prosecutors can also be influenced by things like politics, department resources and even personal philosophies and biases. In short, literally dozens of competing factors and interests interplay to determine how a prosecutor will charge you — and what punishments he/she will seek.
Given the dynamic, hard to predict nature of federal cases, it behooves defendants to retain a top caliber federal criminal defense lawyer. A credentialed, experienced attorney can push back against charges and help you develop a strategy to get maximum results with minimal stress.