In Texas, most offenses are prosecuted by the State of Texas in state court. However, in some instances the Federal Authorities exert their power and prosecute individuals in federal court when they believe a federal crime has been committed. In Texas state courts, the Courts rely on the Texas Penal Code in large part. However, in Federal cases, Courts must rely on violations of the United States Code.
The Federal system is unlike any state court and a wholly different animal. In fact, most federal criminal defense attorney don’t handle Federal cases because there is so much more on the line. Your lawyer needs to handle the case quickly, efficiently, and aggressively.
In the Federal criminal system, all sentences are decided by the Judge. Binding pleas, or plea-offers given by the prosecutor that the judge must follow if they accept the client’s guilty plea, are becoming rare in the Northern and Eastern Districts of Texas. For that reason, your federal lawyer needs to be aggressive and fight for every potential break in your case.
Believe it or not, the wording of your plea agreement and its corresponding parts may drastically affect the outcome of your Federal case. Often times, Prosecutors will put language into the plea agreements that they know will be used at sentencing to enhance your sentence.
After a plea of guilty or being found guilty at trial, the Judge will assign a US Probation officer your case to compile the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). The PSR will outline the charges, your involvement, and your background (including criminal history) and be used by the Judge to determine punishment. In that report, the US Probation Officer will use language from your signed plea papers. For example, if you are charged in a drug conspiracy with no allegation of a firearm present but the plea papers mention a firearm being used, it could easily lead to an enhancement that you’ve already agreed to prior-to sentencing.
It is the job of your federal criminal defense attorney to fight the enhancements in your sentence by filing formal objections to the report and making sure the plea papers don’t set you up for enhancements. Failure to do so will waive those objections and lead to an increased sentence.
Simply put, Federal Court isn’t for the faint of heart or the lawyer who does everything at the last minute. Instead, your federal lawyer should be proactive, aggressive, and fight for you every step of the way. Anything short of that would be a waste of your time, money, and, potentially, your freedom.