If you are charged in DC federal court, your case is prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office. This court handles all crimes that occur on federal property, including misdemeanors as well as all federal offenses. If you are arrest, or you receive a citation or summons, your first appearance will be called your initial appearance, or your Rule 5 hearing. This is a hearing in which you are advised of the charges against you and the Magistrate Judge seeks information about your attorney – whether you will be retaining counsel or whether you qualify for a court-appointed lawyer.
If the prosecutor requests that you be detained, your case will be scheduled for a detention hearing, usually within 3-5 days after your initial appearance. During that time you will meet with your attorney as well as someone from the pre-trial services office. You attorney will begin preparing your bond arguments and the pre-trial services officer will interview you, and likely one of your family members, for background information to provide to the judge when he or she decides whether you should be released. The Judge will evaluate whether he or she assesses you to be a danger to the community or a risk of flight, and whether there are conditions that could be imposed to ensure the safety of others and yourself as well as your appearance in court.
If you are arrested on a felony criminal complaint, you will also have a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is probable cause for the charge to go forward. If you were arrested on a felony indictment, you will not have a preliminary hearing because a grand jury has already determined the probable cause for your charges.
If your case involves a federal misdemeanor, and the prosecutor has not requested that you be detained, your case will either be scheduled for a status hearing or a trial date following your initial appearance. During this time your attorney should be reviewing the discovery, or evidence the government has against you in the case, as well as pursuing the defense investigation. These phases are critical to assessing possible defenses to the charges against you. At the same time, your attorney will likely develop a mitigation plan to use in negotiations with the prosecutor and to present to the Judge in the event that your case does proceed to sentencing.
If your case is charged by felony criminal complaint, the government has 30 days to indict you by a grand jury. These 30 days are often a critical negotiation and investigation period. Your case may resolve before you are ever indicted. If your are indicted by a grand jury, your next court date will be an arraignment.
At an arraignment in federal court you are advised of the charges against you, you enter a plea of not guilty (if you plan to plead guilty, that happens after arraignment) and request either a jury trial or bench trial. Depending on the complexity of your case, your case may be scheduled for trial or for a status date.
Prior to trial, it is important that your attorney engage in an intense review of the evidence against you. Federal cases often involve extraordinarily voluminous discovery. It is critical that your attorney have the resources and capability to examine every angle of your case. Sometimes important information is buried among tens of thousands of pages. Additionally, your attorney should be developing the defense investigation. This may involve hiring experts to evaluate each of the government's claims. “Facts” such as fingerprint or ballistics matching may be presented as concrete evidence, but are actually coming into serious question by many courts across the country. A thorough review of the evidence can lead to critical pretrial motions and robust defenses in your case.