Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

What Do I Need to Know to Win?

In order to win, you will need to make good decisions.  In order to make good decisions, you need reliable information.  You must understand federal court.  You must understand the people and the process.  Your must be familiar with the terminology.  You must know your rights and their rules.  

What is the Best Source for Reliable Information?

Below on this page, you will find the basics of federal criminal court. For more comprehensive information you will need this book: Busted by the Federal Authorities.  It is a handbook written by me exclusively for federal criminal defendants facing prosecution in North Carolina.  In this book you will find explanations of the most important concepts in federal criminal court. This is what I tell my clients to acheive the very best possible outcome.  Hiring my team is very expensive.  You get get much of that information free in this book. I hope that you will use this information so that you can get home to your family and live a long, happy and prosperous life as a productive and law abiding citizen.

Why Act Now?

Almost everyday I see people make mistakes in federal criminal cases that cost them dearly. These mistakes result in lengthy sentences of imprisonment that affect the lives of many people. Many times that mistake is a failure to act now.  Wives grow old without husbands. Children grow up without fathers. Parents never get the chance to say goodbye. These are heartbreaking scenarios and they take place everyday in federal courtrooms across North Carolina. Call for an immediate consultation with us in order to prepare a comprehensive federal criminal defense strategy that will allow you to get the very best possible result under the circumstances.

Some of the concepts you should understand:

Indictment, Criminal Complaint or Target Letter

Arrested by Federal Agents in Wilmington NCThe Federal Criminal Process begins with an Indictment, a Criminal Complaint or a Target Letter.  These documents are not evidence of guilt.  They are merely allegations of criminal conduct.  They are also clear indications that you need a federal criminal defense attorney immediately.

What Do They Tell Us?

Indictments, Criminal Complaints and Target letters provide us with critical information that we can use to your immediate advantage.  From these documents we can determine whether there may be an opportunity to avoid federal prosecution, the offenses and statutory maximums for the offenses with which you have been or may be charged and the judge who will preside over your case.  From these we can perform a detailed guideline analysis using the United States Sentencing Guidelines to give you a reliable estimate of the length of the sentence of imprisonment that you face if you are convicted.

In addition, we can identify the prosecutor assigned to your case.  That gives us someone to talk to about important issues such as Detention, Discovery, Plea Agreements, Trial, and Sentencing. As soon as you know that you might be charged with a crime in federal court it is important that you contact us immediately.

A Word of Caution

Not all criminal defense lawyers are FEDERAL criminal defense lawyers.  Though many principles are the same, federal criminal court is completely different from state court.  You will need an experienced criminal defense attorney who is regularly in federal criminal court in order to get reliable information about judicial tendencies, prosecutorial policies and guideline application. You will need reliable information in order to make good decisions.

Detention Hearing

Constitutional Protection for federal criminal defendantsThe Detention Hearing follows the initial appearance.  You have a right to a detention hearing if the government “moves for detention”.  If the government “moves for detention” then they are asking the court to hold you in jail until your case is heard.  This is common in federal court.

Your detention hearing will be conducted by a magistrate judge.  The magistrate judge will look at the U.S. Code to see what factors to consider in determining whether you should be held or released pending arraignment.  Although, there are many factors the analysis comes down to three things. (1) Does the magistrate judge believe that you will show up for future court appearances? (2) Does the magistrate judge believe that your release will present a danger to the community? (3) Does the government have a strong case against you?  Under some circumstances there may be a presumption that arises that you will be detained.  You may be able to rebut the presumption. Often, you will need a reputable “third party custodian” in order to be released.


After your Detention Hearing, we will formally request the discovery in your case.  The discovery is the documentary evidence, police reports, witness statements, photographs and other evidence that the government intends to use to show that you are guilty of the offenses with which you have been charged.  Once we have received the discovery in your case, we will outline it according to source and review it with you.  Together we will determine what the probability is that you can win at trial. Our extensive federal trial experience is very important at this stage of the litigation process.

At the same time we will be looking at the discovery to determine whether any of the evidence was illegally obtained or can be “suppressed” for some other reason.  Evidence is suppressed when a judge determines that the jury will not be allowed to consider it in determining whether you are guilty.   Suppression motions can be very important in federal criminal cases.  This is particularly so in the eastern district of North Carolina.

During this phase of your case, we will also perform a guideline analysis. In performing this analysis, we will consider the evidence in your case along with the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.  The guidelines contain hundreds of rules that are used to establish a guideline range of imprisonment.  The guideline range is determined based on criminal history points and base offense levels.  It is important that you know about the Sentencing Guidelines and how they apply to your case in order to make a good decision about whether to try or plead your case.

After we have performed an evidentiary review, a suppression analysis and a guideline analysis we will discuss your options.  We will use the information we gathered in the evidentiary review and suppression analysis to negotiate the best possible plea arrangement.  You will have the option of pleading “guilty” with a plea agreement, pleading “guilty” without a plea agreement or pleading “not guilty”.  This is the most important decision you make and you should be able to make it with confidence.


Federal Judges are tough on defendants in North CarolinaThe arraignment is the court appearance in which you will enter a formal plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”.  A U.S. Magistrate Judge will conduct the arraignment.  This is the same judge who will conduct a sentencing hearing if that is necessary in your case.  The judge will inform you of your rights and ask questions to make sure that you are making informed decisions.  This hearing should be uneventful.   This is because we will have prepared you for this hearing so that you will have made your decisions based upon reliable information and thorough analysis. You will be making these critical decisions with confidence.


If you plead not guilty, the judge will set a trial date.  Sometimes the trial date is very soon after arraignment and sometimes it is not.  The trial will be conducted by a United States District Judge.  The facts will be determined by a jury.  The process includes pre-trial motions, jury selection, opening statements, direct and cross examination of government witness, motions, direct and cross examination of any witness the defense elects to call, closing statements, jury instructions, jury deliberations and verdict.  We will discuss these concepts and how they affect your case before we ever walk in the courtroom.

After a trial, if you are found “not guilty” you will probably be free to leave.  If you are found “guilty”, you will be sentenced at a sentencing hearing.  The judge will set the sentencing hearing a few months after the trial and after a Pre-Sentence Report is prepared.

Pre-Sentence Interview

If you plead guilty or are found guilty, you will be sentenced at a sentencing hearing.  After the plea or verdict of guilt, the judge will order the probation office to prepare a Pre-Sentence Report.  The probation officer will conduct a Pre-Sentence Interview with you before he or she prepares the Pre-Sentence Report. During the Pre-Sentence Interview, the probation officer will ask about your family, medical, educational, employment and financial history.  Typically, we do not answer questions about criminal history or offense conduct.  We may or may not answer questions about substance abuse history depending on the circumstances.  We will prepare you for this interview thoroughly because you will be sentenced in part based upon the information obtained as a result of it.  Also, you must know that you do not have to answer questions in the interview, but you may want to.  Further, if you do answer questions, you must answer truthfully or you will be subject to greater penalties or additional charges.

 Pre-Sentence Report

The Pre-Sentence Report is prepared by the probation office.  It is the document that the judge will use to determine your sentence.  It will contain information about your offense, your criminal history, and a guideline analysis and a guideline range of imprisonment.  It will contain basic background information.  It will also contain information about your family, medical, educational, employment and financial history.

The guideline range of imprisonment is the most important part of the Pre-Sentence Report.  This range is important because the judge will sentence you to a term of imprisonment within this range unless he or she has a reason for deviating from the range.  If the judge does deviate from the range, then he or she must explain the reasons for the deviation.

Pre-Sentence Objections

Federal Criminal Defense lawyers carefully review the Pre-sentence reportBefore the judge ever sees the Pre-Sentence Report the probation office will give you and us a copy of a draft copy.  We will review it for legal and factual accuracy.  We will compare it to our written analysis.  If there are legal or factual errors we will prepare written Pre-Sentence Report Objections and send these objections to the probation officer assigned to your case.  We will try to resolve these objections by agreement with the probation officer before we get to court.  If we can, we will.  If we cannot, we may have argue these issues to the judge during the sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, we may argue, present evidence, and/or call you to testify.  We will prepare you for all of these scenarios.

5k, Rule 35, 3553(e)

Almost every federal criminal defendant will have to consider whether he or she wants to cooperate with law enforcement.  Cooperation involves telling law enforcement officers what you know about other criminal activity. It could involve wearing a wire or giving historical information.  There are risks and benefits for this type of activity.  Each case is unique when it comes to cooperation.  We will discuss these options and determine which path is best for you.

18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)

Years ago, judges had to sentence criminal defendants to a sentence within the guideline range of imprisonment.  US v. Booker, US v. Apprendi, US v. Hughes and other cases changed that.  Now a judge can consider information outside of the United States Sentencing Guidelines in determining an appropriate sentence.  The judge can consider the nature and circumstances of the offense, your personal history, the need to protect the public from you, the need to provide you with vocational or rehabilitative services and other factors.  This change in the law provides us with a great opportunity to show the sentencing judge positive information about you that is not included in the Pre-Sentence Report.  We will include this information in a Sentencing Memorandum that we will prepare and present to the judge in advance of the sentencing hearing.


A U.S. District Judge will conduct your sentencing hearing.  Prior to the hearing the judge will review the final draft of the Pre-Sentence Report.  In addition, he or she will review the Sentencing Memorandum that we will have prepared on your behalf. Also, the judge will consider the character reference letters that we will provide.

At sentencing, the judge will consider objections to the Pre-Sentence Report.  These objections may be made by us or by the government.  The judge will hear arguments and evidence on Pre-Sentence Objections that we were not able to resolve with the probation officer.  The judge will consider the information contained in the report, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the factors identified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the sentencing memorandum, our arguments, the character reference letters and your statement to determine your sentence.

The importance of preparation cannot be overstated when it comes to a sentencing hearing.  Different judges have different preferences, procedures and practices. What is important to one judge may be less important to another.  We will prepare for this hearing like it is the most important day of you life because it is.


After your sentencing hearing, you have the legal right to appeal but you must file a Notice of Appeal as soon as possible.  If you signed a plea agreement in the Eastern District of North Carolina, you may have limited appeal rights.  We will have prepared you so that you will understand your rights and so that you will be able to determine whether appealing your sentence to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is right for you.  If you do elect to appeal your sentence, we will start that process immediately.  We have effectively represented clients in the Fourth Circuit for fifteen years.

 Professional Recognition

The Right to Remain Silent 

Please do not speak to anyone about your case other than your attorney(s).  If you speak to another person about your case, that person may testify against you. Also, please do not speak to anyone on the phone about your case.  The calls are being recorded.  We see recordings of these calls regularly in discovery.  The codes that people use to communicate about sensitive information are easily decipherable.

4 More Things your Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer wants you to know:

1.  What happens at a Federal Detention Hearing?

2.  What does a federal target letter, criminal information or criminal indictment mean to you?

3.  What is an initial appearance in federal criminal court?

4.  How can I find the best federal criminal defense attorney?

A Handbook for Federal Criminal Defendants by Nationally Recognized Attorney Clarke SpeaksThe Next Step

For more information about the biggest mistakes people make in federal criminal cases that cost them years away from their families and the most effective ways to avoid these mistakes please call (877) 593-4233 to request a free copy of my book, Busted by the Federal Authorities, A Handbook for Defendants facing Federal Criminal Prosecution or to speak with an experienced professional about your case.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.