Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers in Las Vegas, Nevada

Our Las Vegas federal criminal defense lawyers defend clients throughout Nevada for alleged offenses that:

  1. occur on federal property,
  2. involve a federal official,
  3. involve crossing state lines,
  4. substantially affect interstate commerce, or
  5. affect national security

Some commonly prosecuted federal crimes in Nevada are financial-related, including:

Being prosecuted for a federal crime in Nevada is quite different than being accused of a state crime. Federal procedures are more formal and complex. And judges have greater discretion over what penalties to impose, which can work in the defendant's favor.

In this article our Las Vegas federal crimes defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about the federal court process in Nevada, including grand juries, sentencing, and courthouse information.

Img federal courthouse
The Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.

1. How are federal courts structured in Nevada?

The government agency that prosecutes federal criminal cases in Nevada is the U.S. Attorneys Office of the District of Nevada. The individual prosecutors are called Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs). AUSA's are like the federal version of deputy district attorneys in state court. 

Similar to many state courts, the federal court system has three tiers: 1) District courts on the bottom, 2) Circuit courts in the middle, and 3) the U.S. Supreme Court at the top.1

1.1 District Court

Federal district courts issue criminal charges, holds trials and imposes sentences.

Nevada has only one district court for the whole state, called the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada. It is like the federal version of Clark County District Court.

Nevada District Court has locations in Las Vegas and Reno. (See questions 5 and 6 for contact information.)

Ninth 20circuit
9th Circuit in San Francisco

1.2 Circuit Court

Circuit Courts hear criminal appeals of district court cases.

In Nevada, federal defendants appeal their cases to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit is like the federal version of the Nevada Court of Appeals.

The Ninth Circuit has courthouses in Pasadena, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

1.3 Supreme Court

The top tier of the federal court system is the U.S. Supreme Court. It selectively hears final appeals from the circuit courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court is like the federal version of the Nevada Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is located in Washington, D.C.

2. What is the federal criminal court process in Nevada?

2.1 Indictment

When the U.S. Attorney's Office suspects a person of committing a federal crime in Nevada, it will present the case to a grand jury. A grand jury consists of 16 to 20 people chosen from the local jury pool.

If 12 grand jurors agree that there is probable cause to believe the suspect violated the law, the grand jury will issue an indictment. The indictment is a charging document that alleges the suspect of crimes.2

Shutterstock 462452635
The grand jury decides whether to indict criminal suspects in Nevada.

2.2 Arraignment

If the AUSA secures an indictment against the suspect, law enforcement will arrest him/her. Then the suspect will be taken in front of a magistrate judge in Nevada district court for an arraignment.

The arraignment is when the court reads the charges from the indictment to the defendant. The defendant should plead "not guilty" (he/she can always change the plea later). The judge will also set bail. And if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the judge will assign a federal public defender to represent him/her.

Note that sometimes the arrest occurs before the indictment.3

2.3 Pretrial

Once a defendant is charged, the AUSA will typically offer a plea bargain. If the defendant accepts it, the case is set for sentencing. Otherwise, it will continue through the pretrial process.

The AUSA is obligated to hand over all of their evidence (called "discovery") to the defense attorney. Depending on the case, discovery may consist of:

  • police reports,
  • witness statements,
  • wiretap recordings and transcripts,
  • financial records, and/ or
  • medical records

As the trial date approaches, the defense and prosecution may file various "pretrial motions" to admit or suppress certain evidence. The judge then holds hearings on these motions and often hands down a decision by the end of the hearing. Pretrial motions usually have to be filed at least 14 days prior to the motion hearing so the other side has time to respond.4

2.4 Trial

Federal trials typically last 3 days.

Unless the case is very complex, federal jury trials usually last three days. They are largely similar to Nevada state court jury trials.

First, the court selects a jury (called "voir dire"). Then the prosecution and defense deliver opening arguments. Next both sides examine and cross-examine witnesses. Afterwards, both sides deliver closing arguments. Finally the jury delivers a verdict of guilty or not guilty for each charge.

If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision (a "hung jury"), the judge will declare a mistrial. The prosecution then has the option of retrying the case with a different jury. 

Note that the defense and prosecution can engage in plea bargain negotiations up until the jury returns a verdict.5

2.5 Sentencing

If a defendant is convicted of a federal crime in Nevada, the judge will schedule a date for sentencing. Sentencing typically consists of either:

  • Imprisonment,
  • Fines, or
  • Community service

Note that federal judges are not bound by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Therefore the defense attorney can potentially persuade the judge to impose laxer penalties than the recommended guidelines.6

2.6 Appeals

People convicted of a federal crime in Nevada may "appeal" the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The defendants may argue that the district court returned the wrong verdict and/or that the sentence was too harsh. 

The defendant is not allowed to present new evidence to the Ninth Circuit. Instead, the Ninth Circuit merely reviews the case for errors that prejudiced the defendant.

Courtroom appeals
The Ninth Circuit does not retry cases. It reviews them for errors.

The Ninth Circuit may either:

  • affirm the district court's ruling,
  • overturn the guilty verdict (which would end the case), or
  • remand the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

If the Ninth Circuit affirms the district court ruling, then the defendant may attempt to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear most cases appealed to them. Chances are the Ninth Circuit decision will stand. Learn more about the federal appeals process.7

2.7 Post-conviction relief

Federal prisoners who exhausted the appeals process may file a writ of habeas corpus with the district court. The purpose of a habeas corpus petition is to argue that the defendant's conviction or sentence was inherently unfair. Common grounds for habeas relief are:

  • The court admitted false evidence;
  • The defendant's lawyer was incompetent; or
  • New evidence favorable to the defendant has come to light.

Habeas corpus petitions must be filed within one year of either of the following events (whichever occurs later):

  • The date the conviction became final;
  • The date when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a new constitutional basis which can challenge the conviction; or
  • The date when new facts emerged that could help the defendant's case.8

3. Can you be charged in Nevada federal and state court for the same crime?

Yes. Nevada state court and Nevada federal court are entirely different jurisdictions. Consequently, both courts can charge a person for the same alleged criminal behavior. Las Vegas federal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates this concept:

Example: Pat is furious when he discovers his wife is cheating on him. One day the wife goes hiking alone at Lake Mead, and Pat sneaks up on her and stabs her to death.

Because the stabbing took place in Henderson, Nevada state court has jurisdiction. But because Lake Mead is federal land, Nevada court
also has jurisdiction.

Therefore if Pat gets caught, he could face charges for
both the federal crime of murder in Nevada federal court and the Nevada crime of murder in Nevada state court.

Note that the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against double jeopardy does not protect Pat from being prosecuted in both state and federal courts. This is because double jeopardy laws apply only to one jurisdiction at a time. Nevada state and federal courts are different jurisdictions. In legal terms, Nevada state and federal courts have "dual sovereignty" over the murder case.9

Img criminal records optimized
Federal criminal cases usually may not be sealed.

4. Can federal charges be sealed or expunged in Nevada?

Almost never. One exception is that first-time drug offenders convicted of federal simple drug possession while under 21 may be able to get their record expunged.10

5. Where is the federal courthouse in Las Vegas?

Las Vegas's federal courthouse is located at:

Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse, U.S. District Court.

333 S. Las Vegas Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89101

The telephone number is 702-464-5400.

6. Where is the federal courthouse in Reno?

Reno's federal courthouse is located at:

Bruce R. Thompson Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, District of Nevada.

400 S. Virginia St.

Reno, NV 89501

The telephone number is 775-686-5800.

7. Where is federal prison in Nevada?

There are currently no federal prisons located in Nevada. Defendants convicted of federal crimes in Nevada will probably be incarcerated at the Washoe County Detention Center, located at 911 Parr Boulevard, Reno, NV 89512.

8. Common federal crimes in Nevada

One of the most common federal charges in Nevada is DUI. This typically occurs in federal park areas such as Lake Mead, Great Basin and Death Valley.

In the current political climate, federal authorities are especially on the lookout for bankruptcy fraudcitizenship fraud, health care fraud and federal hate crimes.

Federal prosecutors have been advised to crack down on narcotics crimes, the most serious of which is federal drug trafficking.

As technology continues to advance, the FBI is watchful for violations of federal computer fraud laws. 

And people on the run from police face fugitives charges.

A growing crime is failure to register a drone.

Arrested by the feds in Nevada? Call a Las Vegas federal defense attorney...

If you are facing federal charges in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a FREE consultation today.

If we get involved at the investigation stage--before formal federal charges have been files--often we can head off an indictment, and dissuade the federal prosecutors from going forward.

If charges are brought, we always try to plea bargain a favorable resolution so you avoid trial. But if necessary we are ready to take your case to a jury and argue zealously for a "not guilty" verdict.

For information about California federal crimes, go to our informational article on fighting federal crimes in California

Legal References

  1. UScourts.gov: Court role and structure.
  2. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 7.
  3. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6.
  4. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12.
  5. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 23.
  6. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.
  7. Same.
  8. 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
  9. See Adler, Adam J., Dual Sovereignty, Due Process, and Duplicative Punishment: A New Solution to an Old Problem, Yale Law Journal, Vol. 124, No. 2, 2014-2015, pp. 248-575.
  10. 18 USC § 3607(c).

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