How Federal Criminal Cases Start in New York

A federal criminal proceeding in is initiated by a complaint or filing of indictment. A federal complaint is an accusation that charges the accused with commission of a crime based on probable cause. The complaint will also state the essential facts constituting the offense charged. It must mention specific facts that constitute the offense. Often, the complaint serves as the application for the arrest warrant. The defendant still must be indicted to be tried.

The complaint must be sworn before a federal magistrate judge. If the government bases a sworn, signed complaint to arrest a defendant on inaccurate information and the arresting federal officer uses this misleading complaint in his subsequent grand jury testimony, leading to the defendant?s indictment, the indictment should be dismissed.

The magistrate judge must investigate whether a complaint alleges probable cause for the commission of an offense, that is whether the defendant has committed the crime he is accused of.

Arrest Warrants

The Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires probable cause for an arrest or for a search of a suspect’s real or personal property. The Fourth Amendment further provides that no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause. This requires a neutral and detached judicial officer to determine the existence of probable cause. When seeking a warrant, an officer must present sufficient facts to allow the judicial officer to weigh the evidence in a non-technical, common sense and realistic manner, and to make an independent judgment as to the existence of probable cause.

Arrest warrants must be very specific. Under Federal Rules, this means that the warrant must contain the defendant’s name or, if it is unknown, a name or description by which the defendant can be identified with reasonable certainty. If an arrest warrant is issued for a specific, named person, the law enforcement may not use it to arrest another person, even if the person arrested was actually the intended subject of the warrant.

Federal Rules require the following for a valid arrest warrant:

  • The warrant must describe the offense charged in the complaint;
  • The warrant must command that the defendant be arrested and brought without unnecessary delay before a magistrate judge or, if none is reasonably available, before a state or local judicial officer; and
  • The warrant must be signed by a judge.

In some situations, state police may arrest a person on a state warrant for a federal offense. If no federal agents participated in obtaining the state warrant or in the actual arrest, it is not a federal arrest that must conform to the federal rules. Only a U.S. marshal or ”other authorized officer” may execute a federal arrest warrant. That includes:

  • Any federal judge or magistrate judge;
  • Any state judicial officer of a state where the offender may be found;
  • The mayor of any city in a state where the offender may be found;
  • The officers, inspectors, and agents of the FBI;
  • Special agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives;
  • The officers, inspectors, and agents of the Secret Service;
  • Postal Inspectors;
  • Law enforcement officers of the Environmental Protection Agency.

A warrant may be executed throughout the United States, wherever the defendant is, regardless of where the offense occurred.

To arrest a suspect at home, a valid arrest warrant is usually required, unless there are some exigent circumstances that justifying a warrantless arrest in home. Exigent circumstances exist when there is a need for arrest and no time to obtain a warrant, for example, where the officers have a reasonable belief that there is a threat to live or that a suspect will escape or destroy evidence. Also, the warrantless arrest of a suspect in his or her home is justified when the arrest is made as part of a ”hot pursuit” of the suspect.

An arrest warrant does not allow entry into a third party’s home in which the subject of the warrant is merely visiting. An arrest warrant only allows the agents to enter a home in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is at home and that means only the suspect’s home, not as it does not provide sufficient protection for a third party’s right to privacy in his or her own home. However, only the third-party home owner has standing to challenge the warrantless search of the home. This right is personal to the home owner and may not be asserted by the person named in the warrant and arrested in another’s home.

The warrantless arrest of a felony suspect in a public place is a completely different story. When the arrest is based on probable cause, it does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

A violation of the Fourth Amendment will result in suppression of the evidence gained from the illegal search or seizure but will not stop the government from pursuing the case. It will also not invalidate subsequent conviction.

In most cases, under the exclusionary rule, any evidence that is either the direct or indirect result of illegal government conduct must be suppressed. However, these ”fruits of the poisonous tree” will be admitted if the prosecutor establishes that:

(1) the evidence was obtained from a source independent of the primary illegality

(2) the evidence inevitably would have been discovered in the course of the investigation

(3) the connection between the challenged evidence and the illegal conduct is so attenuated that it dissipates the taint of the illegal action

There are some exceptions to the exclusionary rules, such as where the evidence was obtained from an independent source, or where discovery of the evidence was inevitable, or where there was an attenuated connection between evidence and illegal conduct.

 

Initial Appearance After Arrest For Federal Crimes In New York 

In all cases where an arrest is made on federal criminal charges in NYC, the arrested person must be taken ”without unnecessary delay” for an initial appearance which is held before a federal magistrate judge. If a defendant is arrested without a warrant, the government must promptly file a complaint showing probable cause.

The requirement that an individual be produced before a magistrate judge within a reasonable time only applies to cases where the person is the federal custody. However, if the local state officials hold the arrested person, the federal government is not obligated to justify a delay in arraignment. This can be challenged if the defendant can show that the delay was caused by a special agreement between local police and federal authorities to delay federal arraignment in order to allow more time for a federal interrogation.

If there was illegal state-federal collusion to such a degree that custody was, in substance, ”federal,” then the arrestee is deemed to be in constructive federal custody when held by state officers under state charges, and any pre-arraignment delay will trigger rights under federal Rule 5(a).

Where a person is arrested under a warrant charging unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, the arresting federal agent does not need to bring the arrestee before a magistrate judge if there is no intent to actually prosecute the arrestee under that charge.

In some circumstances, confessions taken from those arrested on federal charges during or following ”unnecessary delay” in presenting them before a federal magistrate judge will be dismissed from evidence.

At the initial appearance the judge informs the accused of the charges, apprises him of his Miranda rights, advises of the right to have counsel appointed, and sets the terms of bail.

Although no constitutional right to counsel attaches at the initial appearance, every defendant unable to retain counsel is afforded counsel ”at every stage of the proceeding from initial appearance through appeal, unless the defendant waives this right.’

If the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor only, the judge must inform the defendant of the charge, the minimum and maximum penalties, the right to retain counsel or request an appointment of counsel, the right not to speak, and other procedural rights such as the right to trial before the court unless the charge is a petty offense or the defendant consents to trial before a magistrate judge.

Where the defendant is charged with a felony, the judge must inform the defendant of the following:

  • the complaint against the defendant and any affidavits filed with it;
  • the defendant’s right to retain counsel or to request that counsel be appointed if the defendant cannot obtain counsel, and the right to consult with counsel;
  • the circumstances, if any, under which the defendant may secure pretrial release;
  • any right to a preliminary hearing; and
  • the defendant’s right not to make a statement, and that any statement made may be used against the defendant.

The magistrate judge must allow the defendant a reasonable opportunity to consult with counsel. The judge will determine whether to release the defendant or keep him in custody.

A person charged with a felony, or with a misdemeanor other than a petty offense, is entitled to a preliminary hearing at which he must be formally charged by a magistrate judge. The preliminary hearing must be held within a reasonable time, but generally no later than 10 days after the initial appearance if the defendant is in custody, or 20 days after the initial appearance if the defendant is not in custody.

NYC federal criminal attorneys with Joseph Potashnik & Associates have handled over a thousand federal cases in New York federal courts and tried over a hundred cases to jury verdict. We have over 75 years of combined legal experience in the federal defense field. If you are accused of a federal crime in New York or New Jersey, please call us today to discuss your case. We are one phone call away. 212 577 6677