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What is the Difference Between Criminal State and Criminal Federal Court Systems?

State vs. Federal

What Happens after I get arrested?

  1. Arrestee taken to jail
  2. Arrestee photographed and fingerprinted
  3. Arrestee allowed to make a telephone call
Bail in a State Case
  • Bail is generally determined by a Bail Schedule in adult cases for matters that are not life felonies. In regards to life felonies, a bond hearing may have to be set by your attorney before your Judge. If you have a violation of probation there is typically no bond set for the offense.
  • The State attorneys Office may ask that your bond amount be increased at a magistrate hearing. Factors that cause the bail amount from the schedule to increase:
    • Prior record
    • History of appearances on other matters
    • Citizenship status
    • On parole or probation
  • Once bail has been set, the arrestee can either post the bail or remain in custody. If charges are not filed for 33 days, the individual may be able to be released on the own recognizance.
  • In court, the arrestee can ask the court for a bail reduction, which may or may not be granted. That would be based on several factors as well such as your assets and your possible harm to society as well as the guarantee of your appearance at future court dates.
Setting of Bail in a Federal Case
  • In a federal case, there is no set Bail Schedule.
  • If arrested on a federal charge, the arrestee must be taken before a United States Magistrate for bail to be set. This appearance must be no later than the very next court day from the arrest, but is often the same day of the arrest.
  • At the courthouse, the arrestee is interviewed by a Pretrial Services Officer who will conduct an investigation into the arrestee's background, including employment, financial, family and community ties, and will make a recommendation to the Magistrate on the matter of bail. Facts about the case will not be discussed in the investigation.
  • Under the Federal Bail Reform Act, a person considered to be either a flight risk or a danger to the community can be detained with no bail.
  • Flight risk is commonly found in cases involving non-citizens, especially in large-scale narcotics cases. Danger to the community is commonly found in cases involving weapons, organized crime, gang-related activity or persons with an extensive criminal record.
  • An important note is that your lawyer can try and continue your Bail hearing so that you will be better prepared to respond to allegation that you are a threat to society, or that you are a flight risk. Your lawyer can make a difference to that extent. The government may be seeking detention (no bail), make sure your attorney is prepared to argue on your behalf.
  • If the Magistrate orders detention (no bail), the arrestee can appeal to a District Court Judge, which takes 2-3 days.
Discovery Matters

The biggest difference between the pre-trial proceedings in state and federal cases is "Discovery." Discovery includes police reports, witness statements, expert witness statements, investigation reports, evidence logs, laboratory test results, photographs and documents describing the charges.

State Court
  • In state court, discovery is required, by statute, at an early stage in the proceedings, long before the trial.
  • In the State of Florida, you are entitled to take depositions of all the main witnesses listed by the State on Felony Criminal matters
Federal Court
  • In Federal court, discovery is not required until much later in the case. Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the prosecutor is not required to provide witness statements until after the witness has testified in the trial, a rule that seems quite unfair and is frowned on by many judges. Due to the attitude of many judges, there is a policy that the United States Attorney should provide "discovery" at an earlier time than required by the statute. That being said an "earlier time" can also mean right before the witness takes the stand in a Federal Trial. A problem arises when a United States Attorney chooses to "play by the rules" and withhold discovery until the last minute. In such cases, a defense attorney will make motions to compel discovery at an early stage of the proceedings "to avoid delays once the trial has begun." This approach is usually successful in getting early discovery. Again, this may be affected by your Judge and the location of your Federal Criminal Matter.
Sentencing in State and Federal Court State
  • There are a few things to consider in Florida State Sentencing matters. The first is what is known as your scoresheet. A scoresheet assigns points to different crimes you are accused of committing. Those points are added and if the total is more the 44 points you are "scoring" a prison sentence.
  • There are caveats to that scoresheet. There are a number of state crimes that
  • carry mandatory/minimum sentences, such as murder, rape, kidnapping and large quantity narcotics cases. These go outside your scoresheet. For example you may be "scoring" 10 years but your charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years. If convicted you would get the 15 years as a min. man.

  • There are even caveats to minimum mandatory time and scoring prison, such as youthful offender sentences. Additionally, in regards to scoring prison, there are motions for downward departures and alternative sentencing that can be filed.
  • In those cases, state law allows a judge the right to exercise discretion and sentence under the scoresheet where the Defendant meets the statutory criteria. It is the defense attorney who should bring mitigating circumstances to the attention of the sentencing judge and provide him/her with the necessary documentation.

  • In federal court, both the United States Code and the Federal recommended Sentencing Guidelines control sentencing. Under the recommended Guidelines, a federal judge is guided in sentencing by the recommended guidelines. Although they call it the recommended guidelines, Judges for the most part sentence within those recommendations. In Federal sentencing a formula, is utilized which is a combination of the offense of conviction and the defendant's criminal history. Once the offense of conviction and the prior record is determined, the judge uses the chart to determine the sentence that must be imposed. There is also a sentencing recommendation filed by the office of probation. However, there are ways to get a judge to depart from sentencing guidelines, it is important to be represented by an attorney who is thoroughly familiar with federal court procedures.