Federal Criminal Defense
Rufus Alldredge is a Mississippi federal criminal defense attorney helping people charged with federal crimes. Whether you or your loved one are charged with a federal offense, or you are being investigated, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you and advocate aggressively on your behalf.
It is critical that you discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible. If any sort of law enforcement or government investigator wishes to speak with you, it is important that you first speak with an attorney who is on your side and who has your interests at heart. If you want a speedy resolution to your situation, an attorney may be able to negotiate with the government before charges are filed.
We handle a wide variety of federal criminal cases. However, there are a few common types of cases that are frequently filed in federal court. If you are charged with any of these types of crime in federal court in Mississippi, we can help.
- Federal Gun Charges: These can include charges for unlawful possession of a firearm, firearm trafficking, unlawful import or export of firearms, fraud in obtaining a firearms permit, possession of a firearm after a domestic violence conviction, burglary with a gun, possession of firearm by convicted felon, and burglary of FFL gun shops.
- Federal Theft and Robbery Charges: While theft and robbery are usually charged in state court, sometimes they can be charged in federal court, as in the case of bank robbery.
- Federal Drug Crimes: These charges can include possession, possession with an intent to distribute, drug conspiracy, manufacture and cultivation, sale, and distribution of a host of controlled substances like marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy.
- Federal Sex Crimes: This category includes sex trafficking charges, solicitation and prostitution cases, failure to register as sex offender, accusations of sexual battery, and various charges related to possession, receipt and production of child pornography.
- Federal Computer Crimes: This can include hacking, internet fraud, credit card fraud, access device fraud, cyber crime, and piracy.
- White Collar Crimes: This category includes certain types of fraud, embezzlement, bank fraud, bank embezzlement, money laundering, conspiracy to commit fraud, identity theft, use of unauthorized devices, unauthorized use of personal identifying information (PII), hacking credit card and bank data, tax evasion, public corruption, and other offenses.
Most criminal cases are charged in state courts, not federal courts. Police activity and the enforcement of criminal laws has been traditionally considered to be state matters, not federal matters. But there are exceptions. Most of those exceptions have to do with interstate commerce—that is, the crime in some way somehow affects or is affected by commerce between the states.
For example, consider the laws involving felons possessing firearms. While this may be a state crime, it is also a federal crime. Congress made it illegal for felons to possess firearms because, given the nature of our firearm industry, almost any firearm has been involved in interstate commerce. Guns are often manufactured in one state, sent to a distribution center in another state, and finally sold in a third state. While these federal criminal cases can have a great deal in common with a state case, there are also some important distinctions:
- The Federal Government has more resources than state governments. This is probably the biggest difference between federal criminal prosecutions and state-level criminal prosecutions. Most states, including Mississippi, are strapped for cash. State prosecutor offices and state law enforcement agencies often have fairly limited budgets since they are funded by tax dollars on the state or county level. Often state law enforcement agencies do not have access to specialized scientific equipment, and they may not have access to certain types of forensic experts. Federal prosecutors, law enforcement, and investigators, on the other hand, have the full resources of the United States government behind them. Instead of cases being investigated by your local sheriff or police department, cases are investigated by the FBI, the DEA, ICE, the Secret Service, and even the Department of Homeland Security and the IRS. Never underestimate the ability or the will of these government officials to prosecute. Sometimes these agencies start a civil investigation, so they can try to gather incriminating information from you without you being afforded the rights criminal defendants are given. Then they turn the information over to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
- Federal judges are different from state judges. Mississippi state judges are elected officials who have to run for re-election every four years. Federal judges, however, are not elected. Instead they are appointed for life by the President of the United States and confirmed by the senate. Once they become judges with a lifetime appointment, they do not have to concern themselves with reelection.
- Federal criminal cases are subject to sentencing guidelines created by Congress. Often times in state courts, there is a broad range of punishment authorized by the legislature and, when someone is found guilty or pleads guilty, the judge is allowed to consider the facts of the case and sentence the defendant within that range of punishment. However, at the federal level, congress has created sentencing guidelines. While these guidelines are advisory, in practice federal judges consider them before deciding what sentence a person will receive in your case. Congress included hundreds of factors in these guidelines, some which you may never guess on your own.
- Some federal charges carry harsh mandatory minimum sentences. While Mississippi state laws for drug offenses allow for reasonable punishments for first time offenders, like probation, that is often not the case in federal court. Many federal crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences that are quite long, and can result in a person serving a substantial amount of time in prison for a first offense. Child pornography crimes can also carry strict mandatory minimum sentences that can lead to the unfair result of a person who is guilty of possession of child pornography receiving a harsher sentence than a person who actually molests a child and is prosecuted in state court.
- Federal prosecutors are usually more experienced. State-level prosecutors have a wide variety of experience. Some of them have been doing it for twenty years while others may be straight out of law school. In federal courts, however, nearly all prosecutors are extremely experienced and seasoned. Younger Assistant United States Attorneys are closely supervised.
- The court schedule moves faster. Often state-level criminal cases can drag on for two or three years (or longer). Strict time guidelines in federal court mean that most federal cases are resolved in a few months.
- The jury pool is different. If you are charged with a state crime, your jury is made up of people from right there in your county. However, federal courts do not just cover one county. Instead they cover large swaths of the entire state. In fact, in Mississippi, the state is basically broken in half, into the Northern District of Mississippi and the Southern District of Mississippi. This means that just because you are accused of committing a crime in a certain part of the state, does not mean your jurors will necessarily be from that community. Jurors summoned to the Gulfport, Mississippi courthouse are drawn from Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone and George counties.
Federal authorities often prosecute gun crimes. The allegations in these cases can sometimes involve unlawful trafficking in firearms or illegal importing or exporting, but more often than not they involve possession of a firearm by someone who is not allowed to possess one. A few of the most common federal gun issues and cases include:
The main statute that governs federal unlawful possession of a firearm is 18 U.S. Code § 922(g). This statute makes it illegal for certain people to ship or transport or possess any firearm or ammunition in interstate commerce.
This list of forbidden possessors includes felons, fugitives from justice, users of controlled substances and controlled substance addicts, people who have been adjudicated as “mental defectives” or who have been committed to a mental institution, illegal immigrants, lawful aliens admitted on a nonimmigrant visa, people who have been discharged from the military under dishonorable conditions, former U.S. citizens who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, people who have had certain orders of protection adjudicated against them, and people who have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.
Federal gun law violations are punishable by up to ten years of imprisonment under normal conditions, but depending on a person's criminal history, he or she can be subject to a mandatory sentence of 15 years without parole. The same statute also governs people without the proper licenses engaging in firearm trafficking and illegal importing and exporting. It is also a crime to commit fraud in an attempt to obtain a firearms permit. It is also a crime to falsify a Brady application to purchase a firearm.
Federal law prohibits purchasing a firearm for someone else. This purchaser is often called a “straw purchaser.” As recently as 2014 the United States Supreme Court has upheld the law that makes straw purchasing a federal crime in Abramski v. United States. In that case the defendant offered to buy a handgun for his uncle because he thought he could get a law enforcement discount on the gun. In order to purchase the gun, he has to sign a form saying he was the actual purchaser. Ultimately, he was charged with and convicted of a crime for lying on that form. The United States Supreme Court held that even in this case, where the uncle technically could have lawfully purchased the gun himself, it was still illegal for Abramski to do what he did. Straw purchase prosecutions begin with ATF agents closely examining gun purchases, and are becoming more frequent as a way to discourage the practice.
Burglary is typically a crime we think of as a state crime. But it can actually be prosecuted in federal court in some cases when a gun is involved. For example, burglarizing a federally licensed firearms dealer can result in federal charges. The ATF typically investigates these cases, and they carry sentences of up to ten years plus substantial fines.
Theft and robbery are typically viewed as state crimes. Usually, that is exactly what they are. But there are exceptions to this rule, and some of these crimes are prosecuted quite harshly by federal officials.
Bank robbery is a federal offense. This does not just apply to banks, it also applies to savings and loan institutions and credit unions. The federal bank robbery statute is 18 U.S. Code § 2113. This law provides for sentences of up to twenty years for bank robbery. Robbery requires taking by force. The statute also provides for a punishment of up to ten years in prison for stealing something valued over $1,000 from a bank, and a punishment of up to a year in jail for stealing something less valuable from a bank. If a weapon is used to put someone's life in danger or if someone involved in one of these offenses kills or kidnaps someone, substantially more serious sentences can apply.
While not as common as it once was, the perfect example of a robbery affecting interstate commerce is a train robbery. Assuming that the train that is robbed is carrying goods intended for sale in another state, then the robbery can be prosecuted in the federal courts. The law that governs these cases is called the Hobbes Act.
If a person robs or attempts to rob another person of property that belongs to the United States, he or she can be imprisoned for up to fifteen years under 18 U.S. Code § 2112.
Robberies and burglaries of people registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration where controlled substances are taken can be prosecuted federally under 18 U.S. Code § 2118. Burglary or robbery of a pharmacy is a Mississippi and federal crime. Stealing controlled substances from a pharmacy or registered pharmacist carries stiff penalties.
White collar crime is a unique area of the criminal law. Litigating these charges usually requires an understanding of complex laws that simply do not apply to many criminal defense attorneys' practice. That is why it is so important if you find yourself being investigated for or charged with a white collar offense that you retain an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney who handles the following types of cases:
- Interstate Trafficking in Aid of Racketeering (ITAR): A charge under ITAR can be a great alternative charge to some other white collar crimes. This provision is found in 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(1)(A). This law says, “Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with intent to...distribute the proceeds of any unlawful activity...and therefore performs [that act] shall be fined...imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.” In other words, the worst possible sentence for this offense is five years imprisonment and a fine. This is substantially better than some of the potential outcomes for other white collar charges under the U.S. Code. Depending on the facts of your case, we may be able to negotiate a prosecution under this relatively less harsh provision.
- Fraud: There are a wide variety of types of fraud that have been criminalized by the federal government. This list includes mortgage fraud, FEMA fraud, BP oil spill fraud, credit card fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, internet fraud, insurance fraud, bankruptcy fraud, immigration fraud, health care fraud, identity theft, and embezzlement. Every sort of fraud comes with its own unique facts and penalties.
- Tax Evasion: Tax evasion charges are a perfect example of a case where you need an experienced white collar attorney on your side rather than just any criminal defense attorney. The unique issues in your case and your defenses will guide negotiation strategies under your specific circumstances.
- Conspiracy: A criminal conspiracy occurs when two (or more) people agree to break the law. The underlying crime could be any charge in the federal criminal code. What makes conspiracy unique is that all that the government has to prove is that there was such an agreement, and that the defendant joined the agreement. If the government can prove that, then they can hold you responsible for the actions of your co-conspirators. Large conspiracy cases can come with high stakes consequences, but they can also provide an excellent opportunity to negotiate a better outcome for you as an individual defendant.
- Public Corruption: Several federal statutes cover these crimes. These can include certain prosecutions under the Hobbes Act, the mail and wire fraud statutes, the Travel Act, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
- Environmental/Wildlife Offenses: Mississippi has excellent hunting and fishing lands. Bagging protected fish and game species can land you in federal misdemeanor or felony court, even if you don’t understand the rules.
- Obstruction of Justice: Sometimes a well-meaning friend or relative may try to help by destroying documents or hiding evidence. This can be a serious mistake. Threatening witnesses or persuading them to hide or evade process even in state court can be a federal felony and land you in worse trouble than the original charge.
While both state and federal prosecutors have provisions under which they can seize assets, it is much more common in federal court. On a very basic level, the government is allowed to seize certain assets if they are tied to criminal activity. These can range from a five dollar bill to an eight bedroom mansion, depending on the details of an investigation. Often times the government will start trying to seize assets before bringing criminal charges, in order to try to get incriminating information from you before you have an attorney in your criminal case. If this happens to you, it is critical that you contact a white collar criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, federal drug crimes can carry some of the most severe sentences in the entire criminal justice system. Due to the “tough on crime” political policies of the war on drugs, Congress has enacted extremely harsh mandatory minimum sentences for many people convicted of drug offenses, even if the individual's involvement in the drug trade is minor and the person has a clean criminal history. Because of these potentially severe consequences, it is extremely important that you seek out an experienced attorney like Rufus Alldredge if you are charged with a federal drug crime in Mississippi.
There are many different types of drug crimes a person can be charged with in federal court. Listed below are just a few of the types of charges.
The simplest type of charge is one for mere possession. Possession of a controlled substance can be charged under state or federal law. The statute that makes possession illegal on the federal level is 21 U.S. Code 841. Another statute applying to simple possession is 21 U.S. Code 844. Possession of a controlled substance includes obvious direct possession (like when you have drugs in your pocket), but it also includes constructive possession. An example of constructive possession would be if you had drugs hidden under your bed, but you were at work. Since you are asserting control over the drugs, even though you do not actively have them on you, you are constructively possessing them.
Like simple possession, this crime requires that you have actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance. But there are additional things the federal government has to prove in this sort of case. The prosecution has to prove that you intended to distribute the drugs. Since they obviously cannot read your mind, they are allowed to prove this using circumstantial evidence. For example, if you have more drugs than are considered to be a personal use quantity, the prosecution will use quantity as evidence of an intent to distribute.
These crimes have to do with transporting controlled substances and moving them from one person to another. The severity of your charge depends on many factors including the quantity of drugs involved. For example, if a large enough quantity is involved, much like in the case of possession with intent, the prosecution can charge you with drug trafficking or distribution.
These are the laws that make it illegal for a person to synthesize drugs. In the case of a natural plant, like marijuana, this would be called cultivation. In the case of a synthetic chemical, like methamphetamine, the appropriate term would be manufacturing.
The drug conspiracy laws are perhaps the harshest of all of the federal criminal laws. On a basic level, a conspiracy requires that two or more people agree to commit a crime. A drug conspiracy requires the prosecution to prove that two or more people agreed to violate a drug law. All that the government has to prove is that there was such an agreement, and that the defendant joined the agreement. Drug conspiracy charges can apply to most drug cases. When a person joins a conspiracy, that person becomes responsible for the other members' conduct. Even if all you personally ever did as a part of the conspiracy is transport a very small quantity of drugs, you will be held responsible for the massive quantities of drugs that were manufactured or trafficked by other members of the conspiracy.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s Diversion Control Program is run through the local DEA field office. Diversion Investigators monitor controlled pharmaceuticals and regulated chemicals. Diversion Investigators investigate or audit physicians, dentists, veterinarians, and pharmacies as well as methadone clinics. Diversion Investigators have computer algorithms to monitor doctors, pharmacies and patients to prevent controlled substances from being diverted to the illicit market including doctor shopping and pill mills. We have represented physicians and other professionals on “pill mill” charges which originated at the DEA Diversion level but later investigated by other agencies. DEA Diversion investigators work closely with local law enforcement officers, district attorneys and United States attorneys.
Being charged with a federal sex crime can change your life forever. Many of these crimes can be charged both by the State of Mississippi and by the federal government. The ultimate outcome of your case can have life altering consequences. It is extremely important to get an experienced litigator involved as soon as possible. You will want an attorney like Rufus Alldredge who has experience with these cases. Sex crimes are different from any other sort of crime for many reasons including include the public's perception that anyone accused of these crimes is automatically guilty. One collateral consequences of every sex crime conviction is lifetime sex-offender registration. You need an attorney who specifically deals with this type of case in federal court.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act first became law in 2000. Among other things, this law created task forces to investigate sex trafficking cases. What this means is that if you find yourself charged with sex trafficking or human trafficking, you will be coming up against government investigators who are well funded and who are on a mission. You will need an attorney who is willing to fight for you.
Federal law defines the term “sex trafficking.” What it means is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” Sex trafficking can become what the federal government calls a “severe form” of trafficking in persons if “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
Generally people think of prostitution and solicitation as something that is handled in state court, or sometimes even municipal court. However, it can become a federal matter under certain circumstances. Examples include child prostitution, prostitution involving certain aliens, prostitution on or near military bases, prostitution that involves crossing state lines, and coerced prostitution.
Sexual assault is usually prosecuted in state court. However, it can be a federal offense under certain circumstances. One example is where the crime is alleged to have occurred on federal property instead of on state property.
There are federal task forces in place that specialize in hunting down child pornography possessors and distributors. These crimes can carry serious penalties, sometimes even more serious than the penalties in state court for engaging in real-world inappropriate sexual contract with a minor. Unfortunately, due to the nature of file sharing programs which are often used to obtain child pornography, a person who believes he or she is simply possessing the images may actually be transmitting them to other users all over the world. Federal investigators have access to extraordinary technology that they use to track these transmissions. You will need an attorney who can understand how this technology works and who can work with the appropriate experts in order to protect you from the government.
While many sorts of crime are usually prosecuted at the state level, in Mississippi computer crimes are regularly prosecuted at the federal level. These crimes can include hacking, internet fraud, cyber crime, and piracy. Many of these offenses are covered by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which was originally passed in 1986. Congress has recently considered amending the act, so it could change at any time to be more or less inclusive.
The CFAA makes it a felony to “exceed authorized access” on a computer you do not own. This is an incredibly broad prohibition that gives the government a lot of leeway for prosecution. This is exactly why there has been pressure on Congress to amend the law. However, so far it has not been amended in a way that narrows prosecutions. Throughout the years additional provisions have been added that make it a crime to traffic in passwords, commit denial of service attacks, or distribute malicious computer code.
Not all computers are covered by the CFAA. For example, a slot machine is not a covered computer. The computers that are covered are called “protected computers,” a term which is defined by 18 U.S.C. 1030(e)(2) as a computer:
(A) exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the United States Government, or, in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the United States Government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the Government; or
(B) which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication, including a computer located outside the United States that is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States.
Felonies are the most serious crimes in the United States. Felonies carry over a year in prison. Misdemeanor crimes are less serious. Misdemeanors are punished by a year or less in the county jail.
Most criminal prosecutions, both felony and misdemeanor, are a matter of state law and filed in state court. Federal misdemeanors are a limited exception to this general rule. Most often federal misdemeanor charges originate when a crime is charged on a federal enclave. Federal misdemeanor charges can also be filed to enforce federal legislation such as fish and game laws. South Mississippi has several federal enclaves or domains. These federal lands include Keesler Air Force Base and Keesler Medical Center in Biloxi, Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport (Seabee Base), and Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (Biloxi VA) and Stennis Space Center. Mississippi’s Desoto National Forest lies in parts of several Mississippi counties including Perry, Wayne, Harrison, Forrest, Stone, Greene, Jones, Jackson, George and Pearl River. Another popular federal land is the Gulf Islands National Seashore located in Jackson and Harrison County, Mississippi. The Gulf Islands National Seashore is a National Park and compromises the seashore in Jackson County and these Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Islands: Petit Bois, Sand, Horn, Ship and part of Cat Island. Federal misdemeanor jurisdiction also extends to protected species of fish and game such as gopher turtles, pelicans, certain sharks and migratory birds.
For example, in a recent case, a federal wildlife agent boarded a fishing vessel and found undersized grouper, a federal misdemeanor. When the vessel’s captain threw the undersized fish overboard, he was charged with felony destruction of evidence under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and convicted of the felony. Eight years later, the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction.
The rules governing offenses on federal land are a maze of laws and regulations. In order to streamline federal law enforcement, congress passed the Federal Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA) which incorporates the law of the surrounding state to federal lands. The ACA is widely applied in federal misdemeanor court. Under the ACA, Mississippi law is sometimes applied to federal lands but the cases are heard in federal court. Mississippi substantive law provides the elements of the charge but federal courts apply federal criminal procedure and federal sentencing provisions upon conviction. As you can imagine, it can get complicated.
For example, if a person is charged with DUI on Keesler or the Gulfport Seabee Base, Mississippi law will apply to the charge, which will be filed in federal court. Similarly, possession of marijuana in the Desoto National Forest will be charged using Mississippi law but the misdemeanor charge will be filed in federal district court. Shoplifting on a base exchange (BX) will be charged as a federal crime applying Mississippi law and federal procedure. A federal class A misdemeanor carries up to 1 year jail time. Federal class B misdemeanors carry up to 6 months in jail. A federal class C misdemeanor carries up to 30 days in jail. A federal infraction carries up to 5 days in jail.
Most federal misdemeanors are petty offenses, consisting of class B and class C misdemeanors and infractions. When a person is charged with a federal petty offense, or a traffic ticket, he is usually given a citation called a “Violation Report” that resembles a traffic ticket. If appearance is mandatory, the accused must appear in court. If appearance is optional, the defendant can mail in a payment. Federal misdemeanors are filed and cleared through the Central Violations Bureau (CVB). CVB contact information will be listed on the violation report.
A petty conviction can have a ripple effect on a person’s life. Certain federal misdemeanors can limit eligibility for professional licenses, child custody, student loans or employment.
Bringing in an attorney early in your case can help change the government’s direction and provide an early opportunity to negotiate with the government before charges are filed. Whether innocent, guilty, or unsure, you are not going to be able to talk your way out of trouble. Anything you say will be used to prove your guilt. Skilled federal investigators are trained to get a conviction. If you are the subject or target of a federal investigation, contact us. We are located six blocks from the Gulfport, Mississippi federal courthouse, the United States Attorney and federal probation. The Law Office of Rufus Alldredge is located at 1921 22nd Ave, Gulfport, Mississippi. Our telephone number is 228.863.0123.