There are differences in the way that criminal matters are handled in the state courts and the federal courts. One is how the charges come about. Federal charges that are considered felonies have to meet strict requirements, so understanding this is beneficial.
Federal criminal charges start with the investigation. The individuals who are looking into the accusations against the defendant have considerable resources available to investigate what happened. Once they have the information they need, the investigators will put it all together and present it to the grand jury.
What is the purpose of the grand jury?
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that states don't have the burden of presenting the case to the grand jury. The federal government is required to present cases to a grand jury if the potential charge is a felony.
The grand jury is made up of 16 to 23 people who are impartial. They must review the evidence and listen to any witnesses that are called. Once they have done this, they will vote on whether to indict the potential defendant or not. There must be 12 jurors who agree on the indictment before it can be issued.
What happens during the grand jury hearing?
One interesting thing to note about a grand jury hearing is that witnesses who testify can't have an attorney present. The jurors will hear everything that is being presented. However, these proceedings are sealed so nobody knows what is being said except the people in the room. Unlike a criminal jury trial, the grand jury procedure is much more relaxed and informal. The sole decision that the jurors have to determine is whether there is enough evidence to charge the person with the crime.
What happens once the decision is made?
The defendant will find out the results of the grand jury decision. If there is an indictment, they will receive the formal notice that contains all the information regarding the matter, including the exact charge they are facing.
At this point, they need to begin working on their defense with an attorney who is familiar with the federal court system. The goal of the defense is to introduce reasonable doubt into the minds of the petit jury members who hear the criminal trial and make the decision about the defendant's guilt.