Felony Offenses

Frequently Asked Questions

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Felony Offenses

How much is bail?
There is no fixed bail schedule in federal court. Under the Bail Reform Act, 18 USC § 3141 et seq, the magistrate releases a defendant on conditions sufficient to ensure a defendant’s continued appearance. Therefore, release conditions, including bail, can vary dramatically depending on the seriousness of the charges, the defendant’s history, and the defendant’s financial circumstances.

Bail bondsmen are rarely used in federal court. The public defender assigned to a defendant's case can give his/her family a better feel for the conditions of release that will be required. In every case, however, the more family and community support for the defendant the more likely release will be granted.

How do family or friends post property for bail?
In most cases, federal pretrial release can be satisfied with a mixture of assets; principally cash, real property (such as homes), and cars. The public defender will be glad to meet with family and friends of the defendant to discuss different options for meeting the bond amount.

The public defender can help with the paperwork to transfer a house for bail. At minimum, posting a house for bail usually requires a recent appraisal, a copy of all title and mortgage documents, and a deed made out to the clerk of the Northern District. Family and friends can help speed up the process by bringing all documents relating to a home – mortgage documents, title reports, and deed records – to the public defender for his or her review.

How long will this case take?
Under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 USC § 3161 et seq, a case is supposed to proceed to trial within 70 days of arraignment on an indictment or information. Some felony cases do resolve very quickly, within a month or two from the first appearance.

Most felony cases, however, take much longer. The average felony case in the Northern District takes one year from the arraignment to sentencing. Complicated conspiracy cases or fraud cases can often take much longer. Delays can come from the need to review discovery, interview witnesses, bring and argue motions, negotiate plea agreements, and prepare for trial.

The public defender will discuss the timing of the case with the defendant, and will explain why any delays or continuances are necessary.

Can you get me moved out of a particular jail?
Although this procedure can change, in general the U.S. Marshal first holds defendants at Santa Rita jail. Most defendants are then moved to North County jail in Oakland (Glenn Dyer), and a few are housed at FDC Dublin.

The US Marshal controls where defendants are housed, and the judges of the Northern District are very reluctant to order (or recommend) a different jail. A court will not order a transfer to allow access to a law library, or because the custodial conditions are better at another facility.

If a defendant is having serious health or security problems in their current jail, they should discuss the situation with their attorney.

I’m coming from another jail. Can you hold my property for me?
The Federal Public Defender cannot, unfortunately, hold property for its clients because it does not have secured storage. Clients should have property sent to their family or friends.

I’m fighting state gun charges. Will my case “go federal?”
The sentence for a federal gun case can often exceed three times the state sentence for the same conduct. The United States Attorney’s Office has the Triggerlock II program, which brings state gun cases to federal court. If a defendant is fighting state gun charges, he/she should discuss the possibility of ‘’federalization” with his or her attorney. County public defenders or retained counsel are encouraged to call our office and ask for the duty AFPD, to discuss the danger of “going federal.”

I’ve got a federal warrant lodged against me in another district. What should I do?
This sounds like an obvious answer, but a fugitive should immediately surrender – either in the Northern District of California or in the charging district. If a fugitive is caught by the U.S. Marshal, it makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) to get bail on the case. Moreover, being a fugitive can have a negative impact on the main case: it can result in bad jury instructions, can increase a defendant’s sentence, and can even result in new charges. If a defendant would like to surrender on a federal warrant, he/she should call our office and we can arrange an immediate surrender before a federal magistrate.

I’ve got a notice to testify before the Grand Jury. What do I do?
There are two broad types of grand jury witnesses: “targets” and “witnesses.” A target is someone who the government may charge with a crime. A general witness just provides evidence to the grand jury.

Sometimes the letter from the United States Attorney’s office will say that the witness is a target. At other times, the witness will just suspect that he or she is a target. In either of those situations, the witness should either immediately hire an attorney or contact our office and seek appointment of counsel. A private defense counsel or public defender can review the facts of the case, contact the prosecutor to determine the government’s interest, and can either negotiate for immunity for a grand jury witness or instruct him/her to assert the Fifth Amendment, if appropriate, and decline to answer questions.

Federal agents want to talk to me. What should I do?
We do not discourage witnesses from speaking to law enforcement officers or agents. However, everyone in the United States has a constitutional right to refuse to speak to a law enforcement officer. (Although, in some circumstances, one can be required to identify themselves to a law enforcement officer). If you think that you are the subject of an investigation, it would be prudent to first contact an attorney before speaking to law enforcement – the attorney can arrange an interview if it is appropriate. It is usually wise to have an attorney present for all interviews with federal agents, if there is any chance that you will be the subject of an investigation.

What is “discovery?” 
“Discovery” is the evidence relating to the charges or to sentencing that is produced by the government. “Discovery” can be five pages long, consisting of a rap sheet and a police report. It can also be hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in a complex fraud case. Discovery can include photographs of the scene, an informant’s name and background, or forensic evidence such as fingerprint or DNA analysis.

When a public defender is appointed to represent a defendant, one of his/her first jobs is to ask for discovery from the government. Except for very rare exceptions (such as sensitive information relating to a confidential informant), a defendant has the right to see all discovery provided by the government. 

Can you help me with my habeas petition?
The Federal Defender represents inmates in habeas actions when a district court grants a request for counsel, after a petition for writ of habeas corpus has been filed. Our representation is limited to the scope of the appointment; sometimes it can last through the entire habeas litigation, at other times it is limited to a specific issue, or evidentiary hearing.

Our office cannot offer general habeas advice or help to draft a habeas petition. Inmates wishing to file a federal habeas petition should speak to their counsel on the original case or appeal. The habeas petition form is available at the Northern District of California's Court Clerk's office.

How much time am I going to get?
That is a complex question that depends on whether a defendant is convicted, the type of offense, prior criminal history, and a defendant's unique characteristics.

Sentencing in federal court is controlled by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Under 18 USC § 3553(a), there are many factors that go into sentencing in federal court, including the nature of the offense, the characteristics of the offender, the need to pay restitution, and access to medical and other treatment.

One factor that the court must consider is the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Calculation of the guidelines can provide one rough estimate of a defendant’s sentence before a plea or trial. The defendant’s attorney will be able to give more details about the defendant’s potential sentence.

Can you recommend a private attorney?
If a defendant has too much money or too many assets for appointment of the Federal Public Defender, our office can provide the names of three or more attorneys who are on the list of CJA panel attorneys. These are all experienced federal practitioners in the Northern District of California. Note that the Federal Public Defender does not seek and cannot accept referral fees from private counsel.

I don’t like my public defender. How do I get a new one?
A defendant has the constitutional right to represent him or herself, to hire the attorney of his/her choice, or to have counsel appointed. There is, however, no right to appointed counsel of one’s choice.

If a client is unhappy with his/her public defender, the first and obvious step is to discuss this problem with the attorney.

If the defendant and the attorney cannot resolve their differences, the defendant can make a motion in court to seek new counsel. Note, however, that new counsel will only be appointed when there has been a complete breakdown in communications, and when the attorney can no longer effectively represent the defendant. A judge will not appoint new counsel because the defendant is frustrated by the facts of the case, by law that limits any possible defenses or motions, or by a high sentencing exposure.

How do I clear my federal criminal record?
In general, only very minor federal drug offenses can be expunged under 21 USC § 844(a). Other federal convictions generally cannot be expunged.

Can a defendant’s family come to court?
In general, the more family support a defendant has, the better it is for a defendant and the case. In most cases, we encourage as many family members to come to court appearances as is possible.

There are some situations, however, where a large family showing may not help. For example, many people in the courtroom may complicate matters when a confidential informant is testifying in a pretrial evidentiary hearing.

Also, some judges do not like children in the courtroom. The attorney appointed to the case can give more details about the best times for the family to come to court.

Make sure that all cell phones and pagers are turned off before coming into court.

If I'm convicted, where am I going to serve my time?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons determines where a defendant is going to serve his or her time. There are many, many factors that go into this "designation," including a defendant's prior criminal history, the facts of the present case, his or her immigration status, and family ties to a particular community. The public defender appointed to the case can give a more-detailed description of the factors that will go into a particular defendant's designation.

The Bureau of Prisons has a web page with descriptions of the various facilities, available here.

Petty Offenses

Have you received a citiation related to an offense in a National Park or the Presidio?

Felony Offenses

Have you been charged with a federal felony?

parole, early termination of supervised release, and treaty transfer

Do you have questions about federal parole, early termination of supervised release, or dealing with a treaty transfer?