When a person is charged with a federal offense in Texas, it is an extremely nerve-racking experience. Federal crimes are much different than the more common state offenses, and they often involve much stiffer penalties.

People who have been charged with federal crimes will usually have to deal with federal agencies handling their cases, and such agencies usually have much greater resources with which to prosecute the crimes than their state counterparts enjoy. According to the Pew Research Center, 80,000 people were defendants in federal criminal cases in fiscal 2018 and only 2 percent went to trial while 90 percent pleaded guilty and 8 percent had their cases dismissed, with only 320 of 79,704 federal defendants—fewer than 1 percent—going to trial and winning their cases.

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Federal Charges Defense Lawyer in Fort Worth, Arlington, Grapevine, Keller, and Southlake, TX

If you are facing any kind of federal charge in Tarrant County, do not wait to retain legal counsel. Make sure you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer before you make your first court appearance. 

The Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy has handled all kinds of federal cases in North Texas and will know how to present a defense that can give you the best possible chance of retaining your freedom. You can have us examine your case and talk about all of the things that concern you when you call (817) 422-5350 or contact our firm online to schedule a consultation.

Federal Trials in Texas

People who are charged with federal crimes allegedly violated the United States Code. More than 100 offenses are classified as federal crimes under Title 18 of the United States Code. Regardless of the crime, certain factors determine whether a crime is a federal one. Those factors are:

  • You crossed state lines
  • The offense took place on federal land
  • The offense involved a federal official
  • Violations of customs and immigration violation
  • The offense violated the United States Code

A crime that meets the aforementioned criteria will be prosecuted in federal court by the United States Attorney’s Office. Agents from the country’s governing bodies will be tasked with investigating the crime. Some of the agencies may include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF).

On the other hand, state crimes are prosecuted by state attorneys and investigated by local and state law enforcement agencies. Crimes that are prosecuted by the state are those that violate the Texas Penal Code. Offenses that are commonly handled on the state level include domestic violence, small drug crimes (i.e. possession), and driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The penalties for federal crimes normally carry much harsher sentences than state crimes. This is because federal judges have far less discretion than Texas judges when it comes to sentencing decisions. Depending on the crime, you could spend up to life in federal prison and be forced to pay millions of dollars in fines.

There are several steps for a federal case. It is important to seek competent legal counsel who will provide strategies for defending your particular federal charge. Below is an outline for the beginning of a typical federal case:

Complaint/Arrest Warrant

The first step the US prosecutors use to initiate a case is the complaint. It outlines the allegations of the federal charge and must include probable cause for arrest. The arrest warrant typically includes the information from the complaint and a command from the judge that allows law enforcement to arrest the accused individual.

Initial Appearance

The purpose of an initial appearance is for the judge to make sure there is enough evidence to detain the individual. A judge must inform the individual of his basic rights. At this time, a person can hire a lawyer or get one appointed for him. Bond is also set at the initial appearance. Generally, an initial appearance happens as soon as possible in order to protect your rights.

Detention Hearing

A detention hearing must be held within three days of arrest. A judge determines the defendant’s flight risk or if the defendant is a danger to the community. Depending on the judge’s finding, the alleged offender may be released pending trial.

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing occurs within 10 days of arrest for a complaint. The Assistant US Attorney can offer evidence to establish probable cause such as testimony and the defense attorney can also provide evidence on the behalf of the defendant. If a judge finds enough probable cause the case is taken to the grand jury for further review.

Grand Jury

A grand jury makes the final decision to prosecute a federal criminal case. Federal grand juries are made up of 23 randomly selected citizens from the judicial district. Citizens serve on the grand jury for a few days each month for approximately one year. After their service ends, a new grand jury is selected by the U.S. District court.


It is possible for an Assistant U.S. Attorney to file an indictment instead of filing a complaint. In order to get an indictment, the Assistant U.S. attorney must go to the grand jury first to establish probable cause. If the grand jury establishes probable cause it issues an indictment against the individual called a true bill. If the grand jury does not establish probable cause it returns a no bill.


Within 10 days from the time an indictment has been filed and an arrest has been made, the arraignment takes place. During the arraignment, the defendant is read the charges against him and advised of his rights. The defendant can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. A trial date is set and a schedule for motions hearings is also selected.

Plea Agreement

If a defendant pleads not guilty the case is set for trial unless a plea agreement is reached between the U.S. Assitant Attorney and the defense attorney. The defendant must change their plea to guilty in order to get a plea agreement. After the plea agreement, the trial does not occur and the defendant goes straight to sentencing.


At trial, the U.S. Assistant Attorney has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury of citizens selected from random must unanimously decide the verdict or outcome of the case. If the defendant is found not guilty, he is released. If he is convicted he moves on to the sentencing process.


After the jury finds the defendant guilty, the U.S. Probation Office collects information about the defendant and compiles it into a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report. This report has mitigating and aggravating factors in it along with recommendations for the sentence to the U.S. District Court Judge.

About 8 weeks after the conviction, the U.S. District Court Judge imposes a sentence. The sentence might be incarceration in federal prison, probation, or monetary fines.


The final stage is the appeal. The defendant can appeal the guilty verdict and the type of sentence imposed. He must file a Notice of Appeal within 10 days from the sentencing. If the defendant entered into a plea deal he might waive or give up his right to appeal.

Most federal trials include the listed steps on this page. Depending on the facts and evidence in the case and the legal strategies employed by the federal prosecutors and the defendant’s defense lawyers, all the steps might occur or only a few may take place. It is important to talk to your defense lawyer about his strategy for your case.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

When an individual or organization is found guilty of a federal felony or Class A misdemeanor, their sentencing is dictated by a set of rules called the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

The Guidelines were enacted as part of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. They are intended to provide a uniform standard and help prevent sentencing disparities. Federal judges are required to calculate and consider a sentence based on the Guidelines, but they are not obligated to adhere to the Guidelines’ recommendations.

Sentences under the Guidelines are determined based on a combination of two factors:

  • The offense conduct
  • The defendant’s prior criminal record

The Guidelines provide a Sentencing Table laying out recommended sentence lengths. Sentence length ranges increase from left to right according to the number of criminal history points a defendant has.

The length of the recommended sentence also increases from the top of the Sentencing Table to the bottom. The Criminal History Category spans from roman numerals I to VI, and there are 43 Offense Levels.

A defendant convicted of a Level 1 Offense with a Criminal History Category of I qualifies for a sentence of 0 to 6 months of imprisonment. A defendant who falls into maximum Criminal History Category VI who is found guilty of a Level 43 offense has prescribed a sentence of life in prison.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are incredibly complex. In fact, the whole federal criminal justice system can be tricky for an inexperienced defendant to navigate. A qualified federal criminal defense attorney can help clarify the federal process.

Fort Worth Federal Charges Resources

Fort Worth | Northern District of Texas | United States District Court — View the website for the United States District Court in Fort Worth. The Northern District also has courthouses in Abilene, Amarillo, Dallas, Lubbock, San Angelo, and Wichita Falls. Read more about judges, rules and orders, and forms and records.

Criminal Justice Information Services – FBI.gov  Visit the official website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI employs more than 35,000 people, including special agents and support professionals such as intelligence analysts, language specialists, scientists, and information technology specialists. The agency has 56 field offices located in major cities throughout the U.S., about 350 satellite offices called resident agencies in cities and towns across the nation, and more than 60 international offices called legal attachés in U.S. embassies worldwide.

Find A Tarrant County Defense Attorney for Federal Charges | Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy

Are you facing federal charges in the Fort Worth area? Try not to speak to anybody until you have first spoken to a criminal defense attorney.

The Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy can aggressively defend you against whatever federal charges you are facing. We will be able to review your case and answer all of your legal questions as soon as you call (817) 422-5350 or contact us online to set up a consultation.

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