Many people throughout Los Angeles County are being arrested for federal crimes, and there's some confusion about where these cases end up. As far as federal cases go, the court controls the Central District of California in the greater Los Angeles area.
It's in downtown Los Angeles. There are two courthouses. One is the Roybal building at 255 East Temple Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the other is the First Street Courthouse. It's the new modern courthouse built recently, and it's no longer the courthouse at 312 North Spring Street, which is now being used for civil litigation.
If you commit a federal crime, the case will be sent to the Central District in downtown Los Angeles. I've been handling federal criminal cases there now for 26 years, and I have a lot of experience dealing with the Central District, even though I travel on federal crimes all over the country. Most of my cases are obviously in my backyard in downtown Los Angeles.
I'm familiar with the federal judges and federal prosecutors that handle these cases. The system as far as going in and attempting to get bail for my clients and bail in a federal lawsuit is slightly different from bail in a state case.
In a federal case, the judge is either going to do a signature bond secured by the defendant's signature or a signature bond secured and signed by somebody connected to the defendant. They're promising to pay a certain sum of money if the defendant doesn't show up, and of course, that is negotiable.
Getting Out of Custody on a Federal Criminal Case
Other forms of a person getting out of custody on a federal case have to do with property bonds. For example, somebody could pledge the equity in their property, and if the defendant doesn't show up, the government can seize that property and get the money out of it to satisfy the bond. It's not state where you use a bail bond agent, and a specific bail is set and then the bail bondsman posts it, and somebody pays a certain percentage to the bond company to remain out of custody, and that's, of course, backed up with an insurance company.
Federal court is different as it relates to bail and pretrial release. So, you'll want an attorney who's familiar with that because you're going to want to get out of custody while the case is pending, if at all possible. Usually, when you can't get out of custody, at least that I've seen in federal cases, it will have to deal with you being either a flight risk or a danger to the community, or if you're facing a mandatory minimum, like a ten year mandatory minimum in a drug case, for example.
That's usually a strong argument for the government that the person should be kept in custody. If they face a ten-year mandatory minimum, their risk of fleeing and not returning to court increases exponentially. After all, they wouldn't want to meet that minimum of ten years in federal prison.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Once you get past the bail issue on a federal crime, the next thing you have to look at is who is going to be assigned as your federal judge.
There is some judge, at least in my opinion, that is more conservative and harsh than others in Los Angeles, and there are some judges that are much easier to deal with and much more forgiving as far as sentencing goes. That brings up a good point, which is the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Those guidelines instruct the judges and give the attorneys an idea of where a particular defendant might fall in a federal criminal case as far as punishment and sentencing goes once you look and see what they're charged with and whether any enhancements apply to their particular situation.
Then you start to get a good feel for what they're looking at if they were found guilty or if they plead guilty. That's important because the charges, the criminal record, where they fall in the sentencing guidelines, and of course what the prosecutor argues, along with their defense attorney's argument and their mitigation package submitted to the court, and finally the judge is going to have the final say in the federal case as far as what the ultimate sentence will be.
That's another thing that's a little bit strange to people who have familiarity with state cases. Usually, if you plead guilty in a state case, you pretty much know what your sentence will be before you get sentenced.
Federal Judges Have Substantial Discretion in Sentencing
On a federal case, it's just the opposite. If you've been arrested and charged with a federal criminal case and your conduct stems out of activities that you committed in the San Fernando Valley, Van Nuys, San Fernando, Encino, whatever city in Los Angeles that makes up the Central District jurisdiction, then, in the end, the judge decides what the sentence is.
The judge will draw from several different sources in making that decision. Still, all in all, they can pretty much do what they want as long as they justify their sentence and they consult and consider the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. They hear what you have to say, they listen to what your attorney has to say, they listen to what the government has to say, and of course, they're also going to look at a report that the probation department prepares.
That's another aspect of a federal criminal case. The probation department will prepare reports for the judge, do a complete background check, interview you with your attorney present, and then write an essay laying everything out for the judge. Of course, it's supposed to be laid out neutrally, and then they'll give their opinion on what they think the sentence should be.
Once again, ultimately, the judge decides in a federal criminal case. If you have one of these cases, take the first step. Pick up the phone. Make the call. If it's you or you're calling for a loved one, ask to set up an appointment with me to sit down and start the process of getting you or your loved one out of the federal criminal justice system. Hedding Law Firm is based in LA County and offers a free case review.