The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in a multitude of ways. Businesses have been shuttered, events of all kinds have been cancelled and, most tragically, people have died. The effects have been significant and widespread; and the criminal justice system is far from immune to those effects. Arrests and prosecutions are down as businesses, bars and restaurants have been closed and people have remained at home. Most of the criminal cases that come from day to day societal activity result in state prosecutions which are arrest-based. That is, a crime is committed, an arrest is made, and an investigation to support that arrest ensues. However, federal criminal cases are a vastly different animal.
A federal criminal case is almost always the result of an extensive investigation by the FBI, DEA, FDA, Department of Homeland Security (which includes Customs and Border Protection), Postal Inspection Service or Secret Service, in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office. These investigations often take months or years with the goal of developing enough evidence to not only charge someone, but also to convict that person with proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Once sufficient evidence is gathered, the Government presents it in a secret proceeding to a Grand Jury to obtain an indictment. If sufficient evidence is presented to the Grand Jury, the jurors vote a “True Bill” (the target is indicted). The indictment is a basis for a judge to issue an arrest warrant.
This process has, however, been impacted by the pandemic as well. Although investigations by federal law enforcement officials have not slowed or stopped, indictments certainly have. The Grand Jury process has been put on hold. Social distancing requirements have made it impossible to empanel Grand Juries to obtain indictments. Grand Jury rooms tend to be of insufficient size to allow for social distancing between and among the Grand Jurors, witnesses, court stenographers, and prosecutors who cioprise the participants. Once proper social distancing protocols can be put in place making it safe for the participants to meet in the relatively small spaces that are Grand Jury rooms, and the participants are comfortable congregating there, the Grand Jury process will restart. This is likely to result in an avalanche of new federal criminal cases and arrests as there are numerous completed investigations that have not been brought to court solely because of the inability to indict at this moment. A plethora of federal arrests are likely coming in the weeks or months ahead as the country reopens.
It is important for anyone arrested on a federal arrest warrant and facing an indictment to secure experienced federal criminal defense counsel to protect essential rights. Obtaining the right lawyer early on can make a huge difference in the ultimate result.
At Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry, we are experienced in defending against federal indictments and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to discuss your legal needs and fight for your rights. Feel free to contact us at (516) 218-5131.