What’s My Case Worth (What is at Stake in a Federal Criminal Case?)
Even if You are Not Ultimately Convicted in Court, the Consequences of Facing Federal Charges Can Be Substantial
What is at risk if you are under investigation by the federal government? If the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or any other federal agency is looking into you or your business, what are the possible outcomes, and what are the possible consequences of each of those outcomes?
What Do You Have to Lose in Your Federal Criminal Case?
While most people know that being convicted of a federal crime is a serious matter – far more serious than being convicted in state court in most cases – what most people don’t know is just how serious facing federal charges truly is. If you are under investigation (or if you have been charged already), the consequences can alter the course of your life, and this is true regardless of whether or not you are ultimately convicted at trial.
Let’s consider an example: You own a business. Maybe you are a doctor and you own your own practice. You have been operating your business successfully for several years, and without any indication that your billing practices violate Medicare’s guidelines. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you receive a subpoena from the DOJ. You are under investigation for criminal Medicare fraud, and you immediately have the following questions:
- Are you guilty? If you are guilty, what penalties could you face?
- Regardless of whether you are guilty of a federal crime, how will the investigation impact your personal reputation and your business?
- Regardless of whether you are guilty of a federal crime, could your professional license be in jeopardy?
While our example involves a practicing physician, it could just as easily involve anyone else. The concerns would be the same—and they would be very real. While a lot will need to happen in order for you to be convicted in federal court, there are also many steps you will need to take quickly and strategically in order to ensure that the consequences of the investigation are no greater than necessary. Consider this:
- The longer your case goes on, the more money you will spend on your defense, and the less time you will have to devote to your business.
- Even if you are not ultimately convicted in court, if you are charged with a federal crime (or multiple federal crimes, as is often the case), the allegations against you could become public record.
- Even if you are not ultimately convicted in court, since the standards for professional discipline are lower than those for federal criminal culpability, you could lose your professional license regardless of whether the DOJ moves forward with seeking an indictment.
Now, let’s assume that you committed a federal crime. You didn’t know it, but your billing practices violate federal law, and ignorance of the law is not a defense in court. At this point, having your case made public and losing your professional license could be the least of your concerns. In federal fraud cases, potential penalties include:
- Substantial criminal fines;
- Costs, government attorneys’ fees, and other financial penalties;
- Loss of eligibility for government contracts, government programs, and other benefits; and,
- Long-term federal incarceration.
Also, consider the fact that federal prosecutors will often pursue multiple counts of multiple charges. For example, in a billing fraud case, potential charges include (but are not limited to): mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, government benefit program fraud, and conspiracy. Each of these offenses carries the potential for six or seven-figure fines and years or decades of imprisonment. If you are charged with multiple counts of billing fraud, you could easily be facing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal fines and an effective life sentence.
If you are charged with insurance fraud, bank fraud, securities fraud, federal drug crimes, criminal copyright infringement, identity theft, or any other federal crime, the potential consequences are no different. If you do not defend yourself effectively, your life as you know it could be over, and you could face the consequences of your federal case every hour of every day for the rest of your life.
Understanding the Penalties and Collateral Consequences in Federal Criminal Cases
In terms of the penalties in federal criminal cases, there are two main types of which targets of federal investigations and defendants who have been charged with federal crimes need to be aware: (i) fines, and (ii) federal imprisonment. However, a federal criminal conviction can have multiple collateral consequences as well; and, as we mentioned above, you can face many of these consequences even if you are able to escape a conviction in federal district court.
Criminal Penalties for Federal Offenses
The penalties for federal crimes are established by statute and by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Several provisions of the U.S. Code specify the maximum penalties for specific criminal offenses, and 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 sets forth the maximum fines for cases in which alternate fines are not specified by the substantive statutory provision. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines provide ranges for federal prison sentences that take into account a multitude of different factors, and U.S. district court judges may (but are not required to) consider the Federal Sentencing Guidelines when imposing penalties following a conviction.
Here are some examples of offenses that are commonly charged in federal criminal cases and the attendant maximum penalties:
- Aggravated Identity Theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A) – Up to two years of additional imprisonment, served consecutively with any other term of imprisonment imposed.
- Attempt (18 U.S.C. § 1349) – The same penalties as those prescribed for the underlying offense.
- Bank Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344) – Up to a $1 million fine and 30 years of federal imprisonment.
- Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. § 371 and 18 U.S.C. § 1349) – Statutory fines and up to five years of federal imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 371, and the same penalties prescribed for the underlying offense under 18 U.S.C. § 1349.
- False Claims Act Violations (31 U.S.C. §§ 3729 – 3733) – Statutory fines and up to five years of federal imprisonment.
- Mail Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341) – Statutory fines and up to 20 years of federal imprisonment.
- Making False Statements to Federal Agents (18 U.S.C. § 1001) – Statutory fines and up to five years of federal imprisonment.
- Making False Statements to an FDIC-Insured Bank or Certain Other Entities (18 U.S.C. § 1014) – Up to a $1 million fine and 30 years of federal imprisonment.
- Money Laundering (18 U.S.C. § 1956) – A fine of up to $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater, and up to 20 years of federal imprisonment.
- Tax Evasion (26 U.S.C. § 7201) – A fine of up to $100,000 (for individuals) or $500,000 (for corporations) and up to five years of federal imprisonment.
- Wire Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343) – Statutory fines and up to 20 years of federal imprisonment.
Under 18 U.S.C. Section 3571, statutory fines imposed when an alternate fine is not specified in the relevant criminal statute are as follows:
- For individuals, $250,000 in felony cases (virtually all cases involving federal investigations and prosecution by the DOJ are felony cases); and,
- For business entities, $500,000 in felony cases.
Collateral Consequences of Federal Investigations, Charges, and Convictions
In addition to fines and prison time, individuals and companies charged with federal crimes can face various collateral consequences as well. While you will almost certainly face these consequences if you are convicted, it is very possible – if not probable – that you will face many of these consequences even if you are able to avoid charges or secure a dismissal prior to trial. The collateral consequences of facing federal criminal charges include (but are not limited to):
- Damage to your public reputation, which will not go away even if your charges are dropped
- Immigration consequences if you are a non-citizen (up to and including removal from the United States without eligibility to return)
- Ineligibility for federal government registrations (i.e. registration with the DEA or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC))
- Loss of business as a result of the allegations against you being made public
- Loss of eligibility for federal government opportunities (i.e. government contracts and benefit programs, as discussed above)
- Loss of eligibility to hold federal office
- Loss of your right to own firearms
- Loss of your right to vote
- Professional licensing action (up to and including permanent license revocation)
- Other consequences in your persona life, such as loss of child custody, loss of insurance coverage, and difficulty finding housing and job opportunities
Is it Time for You to Speak with a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer?
At Oberheiden Law, we help individuals and businesses nationwide avoid unnecessary consequences due to federal investigations and federal criminal charges. If you are under investigation, if you have been arrested, or if you have been indicted, we urge you to contact us immediately. To speak with one of our senior federal criminal defense attorneys in confidence as soon as possible, call 469-587-6703 or get in touch online now.