Frequently Asked Questions for Clients

  1. How can I qualify for appointed counsel (a free lawyer)?

    If you are charged with a federal criminal offense, you will be considered for appointed counsel at the time of your initial appearance. If you cannot afford an attorney, the federal magistrate judge will appoint an attorney for you. If you have received a letter stating that you are the target of a Grand Jury investigation, you can apply to a federal magistrate judge for appointment of counsel. You will need to fill out a financial affidavit which can be found at

  2. Do federal defender attorneys work for the court? Is my attorney going to work hard to defend me?

    Although federal defenders are appointed by the court our mission is to provide the best possible defense to our clients.  Like all attorneys, federal defenders are ethically bound to zealously advocate for our clients. We strive to do this every day and for every client. Our clients are not numbers or statistics. Our clients are real people facing charges that can have a serious impact on their lives. We litigate our cases accordingly. It is in your best interest to work with and trust your attorney so that you can fully communicate all facts relating to your case with your attorney. That is the only way to ensure that your attorney has all of the facts necessary to represent you zealously and effectively. Please let your attorney know if you have any concerns about this.

  3. Are my communications with my lawyer confidential?

    The attorney-client privilege protects conversations between clients and their attorneys from being revealed to anyone outside the defense team. For this reason, only statements made to your attorney are completely protected from being revealed in a Government investigation. For the most part, statements made to anyone other than your attorney are fair game in a Government investigation, meaning that Government agents can question anyone other than your attorney about statements you make to them. Government attorneys can subpoena anyone other than your attorney about your statements, including family members.

  4. Will the Federal Defender Office hold my property for me?

    The Federal Defender Office cannot hold property for its clients because it does not have secured storage. Clients should have property sent to family or friends.

  5. What are my rights and how do I invoke them?

    Every citizen has the right to remain silent when questioned by authorities. If you would rather not speak to a law enforcement officer or if you want to obtain a lawyer before speaking, you should tell the officer so. If you have a lawyer who is not there, you will have to tell the person questioning you that you want to invoke your right to remain silent. Ask the person questioning you to stop and tell him or her that you do not want to speak without a lawyer if you want to have a lawyer present. If you have a lawyer, you can tell the agents to contact your lawyer.

  6. Federal agents want to talk to me. What should I do?

    Clients: If you are a client, please contact our office immediately if any law enforcement agents attempt to interview you. You should never speak to any law enforcement official without your lawyer. Our office requests to be present for any interviews of our clients with law enforcement. Witnesses: We do not discourage witnesses from speaking to federal law enforcement officers or agents. Be aware, however, everyone in the United States has a constitutional right to choose whether or not to make a statement to a law enforcement officer. In other words, a person has no obligation to talk with a law enforcement officer. (An exception is that in some circumstances, one can be required to identify themselves to a law enforcement officer.) If you think you are the subject of an investigation, it would be prudent to first consult with an attorney before speaking to law enforcement officers about the investigation. You can also request to have an attorney

  7. The police or federal agents want to search my house. What should I do?

    If the agents have a search warrant, you must allow it. However, if agents are seeking your permission or consent, that means you have a choice and you are completely within your rights to refuse to allow them to search. In fact, the wisest path is often to refuse consent. Your refusal cannot be used against you. Clients: If you are a client, never consent to a warrantless search without consulting with your federal defender attorney. Others: We do not discourage witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement officers or agents. Everyone in the United States has a constitutional right to choose whether or not they want to allow a law enforcement officer to conduct a warrantless search. If an agent has a warrant to search your home, you must allow them to do so. If you think you might be the target of the investigation or if you feel uncomfortable about allowing a warrantless search, it would be prudent to consult with an attorney before you make your decision on whether or not to give your permission for a search. It is up to you.

  8. I have received a notice to testify before the Grand Jury. What do I do?

    There are two broad types of grand jury witnesses: "targets" and "witnesses." A target is someone who the government may charge with a crime. A general witness just provides evidence to the grand jury. Sometimes the letter from the United States Attorney's office will say that the witness is a target. Other times, the witness may just suspect that he or she is a target. In either of those situations, the witness should consider hiring an attorney or requesting appointment of counsel. If you are in this position, you are welcome to contact our office to learn more about this process.

  9. When do I go to court?

    After the first few court appearances, federal court time tables differ from case to case. Initial appearances are held as soon as possible after arrest by the federal authorities keeping in mind that court is not held on weekends or federal holidays. A bond hearing will typically be held either at the initial appearance or between three and five business days following the initial appearance. If you are arrested on a criminal complaint, the Government must obtain an indictment in felony cases within thirty days of the initial appearance. Arraignment is usually held shortly after the indictment is returned.  You should ask your attorney for more specific information pertaining to your case.

  10. What is discovery?

    "Discovery" is the evidence relating to the charges or to sentencing that is produced by the Government. "Discovery" can be five pages long, consisting of a rap sheet and a police report. It can also be hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in a complex fraud case. Discovery can include photographs of the scene, phone records, computer files, or forensic evidence such as fingerprints or DNA analysis. When an attorney is appointed to represent a defendant, one of his or her first jobs is to ask for discovery from the Government. Once the lawyer gets the discovery, he or she will make a copy for the client. Please be advised that the rules require the defense to provide discovery to the Government of any documents or evidence which the defense expects to use in its case at trial. That means if there are important documents that will be necessary to your defense, discuss and provide them to your attorney because the failure to provide this information to the Government prior to trial can result in the judge ruling that it cannot be used in your defense.

  11. Where do federal prisoners do their time?

    The Federal Bureau of Prisons has facilities all over the United States. Federal inmates are sent to a facility that matches their security classification with an effort to locate the inmate as close as feasible to family members. A judge's recommendation can help encourage a certain placement, but the recommendation does not guarantee that the Bureau of Prisons will place an inmate in any particular facility.

  12. What is good time and how much credit do you get for it?

    There is no parole in the federal system. However, the Bureau of Prisons can credit up to 54 days per year against a sentence for good behavior. Be aware that the way that the Bureau of Prisons calculates good time is not what you might expect. Also, a person will generally receive less good time if they have not achieved a high school diploma or equivalency. We are frequently asked whether Congress is working on increasing the good time reduction. We are not currently aware of any change in the good time policy from Congress or any other place. Congress enacted a law called the Second Chance Act which does not affect good time, but which does permit the Bureau of Prisons to work on early transfers to halfway house placement for certain inmates. However, it is our understanding that there has so far been only a very limited implementation of this by the Bureau of Prisons.

  13. I have been on supervised release or probation for over one year. Can I ask the Court for early termination of supervision?

    Yes. The law provides that probationers and person serving terms of probation or supervised release may move to terminate supervision after successful completion of one year. (Pretrial supervision usually does not count against this time period.) As a practical matter, a judge is unlikely to terminate supervision if there is unpaid restitution, incomplete community service or an unpaid fine in your case. Also, the judge will ask your probation officer for input as to your level of compliance during supervision. Therefore, if you have a good record of compliance and if you have completed financial and community services conditions of supervision, you may be a candidate for early termination. You are welcome to contact our office to inquire about this. It would also be a good idea to discuss this possibility with your probation officer to get a feel for the officer's position.