The United States' federal court system has three primary levels, with district courts (also known as trial courts) serving as the first level. This is where cases begin. Upon appeal, a case may progress to the second level of the federal court system—circuit courts—and then to the Supreme Court.
If you are facing a federal case in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle District, then your case will begin in district court. The investigation will be the first stage in your case. Considering the gravity of any federal case, you should be aware of every facet of the federal court process—investigation included.
Federal courts follow different rules and procedures than state courts. Even if you have completed one or more legal cases in Pennsylvania, you may find various aspects of the federal court process unique. If you still have questions after reading about the investigative stage of federal court processes, contact the Lento Law Firm for answers and legal assistance.
Who Investigates Criminal Cases in Pennsylvania's Eastern and Middle Districts?
When you are facing a federal criminal case, the agencies that investigate your case will be federal in their scope. Rather than law enforcement officials at the city, county, or state level investigating your case, you may face an investigation by:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
- Another federal investigative agency
These agencies may conduct their investigation in a manner similar to non-federal law enforcement agencies. However, federal investigators may have substantially greater resources and funding for an investigation. These ample resources may allow a comprehensive investigation and detailed case against you.
What Types of Investigations Do These Federal Agencies Handle?
As the FBI explains, the Bureau generally investigates any crime that is brought to its attention. If the alleged offense qualifies as a federal crime, the FBI may launch its own full-fledged investigation or refer the case to the appropriate investigative agency.
An offense may qualify for a federal investigation if:
- It involves a federal entity, such as the murder of a federal official or robbery of a federal institution
- The crime occurs in multiple states, or the defendant crossed state lines when committing an offense
- The offense violates federal statutes
- The offense involves alleged terrorism
Federal statutes may closely mirror state statutes. Therefore, federal investigative agencies generally have broad grounds for taking over a case in Pennsylvania. However, these agencies generally only investigate cases they deem serious.
In What Counties Do These Agencies Conduct Criminal Investigations?
Federal investigative agencies have federal jurisdiction. This means that federal agencies may investigate criminal cases in any jurisdiction, including those that fall within Pennsylvania's Eastern and Middle Districts. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania encompasses:
- Philadelphia County
- Berks County
- Bucks County
- Chester County
- Delaware County
- Lancaster County
- Lehigh County
- Montgomery County
- Northampton County
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania includes 33 counties, so we won't list all of them here. Court houses for the Middle District of Pennsylvania are in Harrisburg, Scranton, Williamsport, and Wilkes-Barre, giving you some idea of the area that the Middle District covers.
Tactics That the Investigative Agency May Have Used to Build a Case Against You in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle District
Multiple federal, state, and local agencies may work together on a case, sharing resources and varying their investigative tactics. Federal law enforcement officials may deploy a variety of investigative tactics in a Pennsylvania-based case, including:
- Pulling the defendant's phone records
- Physical surveillance
- Electronic surveillance
- Use of informants
- Undercover investigation
- Witness interviews
- Executing search warrants, which may take place when the defendant is or is not present on a premises
- Pulling a defendant's financial records
Tactics may depend largely on the type of case that law enforcement officials are investigating. If the alleged offense is a financial or drug crime, pulling bank records may be a typical tactic. If the offense involves a complex criminal organization, the use of informants may be essential.
Regardless of which tactic federal investigators employ, the investigating parties must follow the letter of the law.
How Long Does an Investigation Take, and How Will I Know If I Am the Subject of a Federal Investigation?
Federal investigations vary in length and can last weeks, months, or years. The nature of your case, the complexity of the evidence, and the prosecutor's ability to build a case speedily may determine the length of an investigation.
You may not become aware of an investigation until investigators (and prosecutors) choose to alert you. You may become aware of the federal investigation and pending charges when:
- Law enforcement officials alert you of the investigation in person, at which point they may request an interview
- Law enforcement officials execute a search warrant on one or more of your properties
- You receive a letter from the prosecutor's office informing you of the investigation—this is known as a target letter
- Someone that you know tells you that federal investigators spoke to them about you (though investigators will likely take precautions to ensure this does not happen)
You may receive a subpoena to appear in court or provide documentation, and this subpoena may be a de facto alert that you are the target of an investigation in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle Districts.
What If a Federal Investigative Agency Violates the Law or the Defendant's Rights?
As a defense attorney, Joseph Lento has a keen eye for violations of defendants' rights. Such violations do occur during federal investigations and may include:
- Creating false evidence
- Planting evidence
- Conducting searches that are outside the scope of a warrant
- Failing to inform interview subjects of their Miranda rights
- Engaging in tactics that qualify as entrapment
- Engaging in any other investigative tactic that violates a subject's Constitutional rights
The FBI and other federal investigative agencies espouse respect for civil rights, but violations do occur. If a federal agency violated your rights during the investigative process, this may affect the types of evidence prosecutors can use in your case or the validity of the case itself.
Who Determines If a Federal Investigation Is Legal and By-the-Book?
The judge presiding over your case in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle District Courts may decide whether certain investigative tactics, or the investigation as a whole, were lawful.
If we learn of any rights violations during an investigation into your conduct, we will alert the judge to these questionable tactics. We may strengthen your defense by having unlawfully obtained evidence ruled out. We may even be able to secure a dismissal of the charges against you.
Federal investigators should be well aware of lawful and unlawful investigative tactics. Just as importantly, investigators must employ only lawful tactics when investigating you (or anyone else).
I'm Facing a Federal Investigation in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle Districts, What Should I Do?
If you've become aware that you are the subject of a federal investigation, hiring a capable criminal defense lawyer is the first priority. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm will review the facts of the investigation and build your defense.
Until you hire our firm, you should not do anything that could put your rights at risk. This generally means avoiding any interviews until your attorney is present.
Our team is available at all times to speak with you, so call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online. In matters of criminal defense, you may want to call in order to get legal protection as quickly as possible.