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The federal criminal justice process

On Behalf of | Jan 25, 2022 | Criminal Defense, Federal Offenses |

The federal criminal justice system consists of several organizational units. All are built on the function of detecting, investigating and preventing criminality. Across South Carolina and other states, agencies seek to apprehend offenders and hold them under federal charges.

State vs. federal court

Across the United States, there are 13 circuit courts, 94 district systems and a single Supreme Court. Here are several differences between the criminal processes used by the state and federal courts.


  • Federal cases reach the court via U.S. attorneys.
  • Judges are district court judges.
  • Magistrates hear initial matters like pre-trial motions but do not make final decisions.
  • Federal charges require a jury unless defendants waive the indictment processes.


  • Prosecutors and DAs handle state cases.
  • Court trial judges have a variety of titles.
  • Grand juries can influence charges but aren’t always required.

Both levels of the system have unique or similar charges. Regardless of how the state or federal view a specific crime, either system can charge a defendant and convict them under both systems.

Steps in the federal process

The federal system handles a crime and charges on a case-by-case basis. Among the primary steps are:

  • Investigation
  • Charging
  • Initial hearing and arraignment
  • Discovery
  • Plea bargain
  • Preliminary hearing
  • Pre-trial motions
  • Trial
  • Post-trial motions
  • Sentencing
  • Appeal

Fighting a federal case

If someone is charged on the federal level, they may face one of several outcomes. A federal case typically ends up resolved in one of the following ways:

  • There is a plea bargain.
  • The case proceeds to trial.
  • Federal charges get dismissed.

What to do

Whether you’re charged with immigration fraud, weapons offenses or another offense, you want a strategy tailored to the federal system. You may be able to reduce your risk of a conviction and harsh penalties with a solid defense.