This page is a resource for people who are trying to learn more about white-collar criminal cases.
Our assumption is that if you’re here, it’s because you or a loved one are involved, in some way, in the federal criminal justice system.
We hope you find this information useful. This site is very much a work in progress. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, we’d love to know what they are so we can add that information. You can email us at email@example.com or call us at (202) 640-2850. And, of course, if you have a case that you are looking for an attorney to help with, we’d be happy to talk to you about that as well.
Most white-collar cases are brought in federal court. As a result, the focus of this page is on federal prosecutions and federal cases. If you're looking for information about a white-collar criminal case that’s being brought in state court, this information will be less applicable.
The resources on this page are divided into two categories. First, we have information about the procedures in the stages of a federal criminal case. Second, we have information about some of the charges that are either investigated or prosecuted as white-collar criminal cases.
For an overview of the differences between a federal prosecution and a criminal case in state court, please visit this page.
There are, generally, three separate stages in a white-collar case.
The White-Collar Investigation
First, a white-collar case normally starts with an investigation (here's our general overview page on white-collar investigations). Generally, think of an investigation as anything that happens before formal charges are filed.
We find that in a typical white-collar case, the government has a longer period of investigation and has invested more resources in the case than in other kinds of cases, which can create a challenging dynamic. The federal government has broad powers to investigate people. The government spends millions of dollars investigating people every year, using the FBI, the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and an Office of Inspector General in just about every federal agency.
There are a few ways people learn that they're under investigation for a white-collar crime.
An investigation sometimes starts with the FBI, or some other federal law enforcement agent, comes to your home or business and tries to talk to you. Whether you talk is your decision, but there are some things you may want to think about in deciding whether to talk to federal agents.
Sometimes you’ll learn of a white-collar investigation through a grand jury subpoena or through federal agents showing up at your house and executing a search warrant. In other cases, you’ll hear about an investigation from other people who have been approached by a federal agent.
When you learn that you are under investigation it’s is a very good time to hire an attorney. Often, there are things that an attorney can do to help during an investigation. This is the stage of a case where an attorney can - depending on the case - have the greatest impact in keeping formal charges from being brought. An attorney at this stage in the case can reach out to the prosecutor and learn whether you’re a target, subject, or witness.
If you're under investigation, please see these pages about what you should do if you're under investigation and what you should not do while under investigation for a white-collar crime.
White-Collar Indicted Cases
Unfortunately, sometimes a white-collar criminal investigation results in federal criminal charges. Here's our overview page on the process for a white-collar case once charges have been brought.
Generally, a case starts with an arrest or your lawyer learning about an indictment (depending, generally, on whether there’s been contact between your attorney and the prosecutor during the investigation). A judge will set conditions of release — whether you’ll be allowed home or have to be in jail while waiting for trial. This is a stage in a case where you will definitely need an attorney.
The government will have to give your attorney what’s called discovery - which is made up of certain kinds of evidence that it will use against you at trial.
Before trial, there is often a negotiation about whether a plea makes sense and is workable, and, at around the same time, your attorney will file pretrial motions to try to shape what the trial will look like and, in some cases, have the entire case dismissed.
If the case isn’t dismissed through a pretrial motion, or a plea agreement isn’t worked out, then the case will go to trial.
If you’re convicted, either on a plea agreement or after a guilty verdict at trial, then the case will go to sentencing. Determining what sentence will be imposed in a federal case is the result of a complicated process.
Federal Criminal Appeals
After sentencing, you can bring an appeal of what happened in the case. For more about what can be appealed, and how federal criminal appeals work, please visit our overview page on federal criminal appeals.
Here are pages where we answer some common questions about federal criminal appeals:
What happens in a federal criminal appeal?
There are a number of things that can be charged as white-collar crimes. We have a number of pages on the different kinds of white-collar charges. In general, our information in this area is divided into general information about the charges, information about the statutes that Congress adopted to create the charges, and information about what kinds of things go into the sentence for these charges.
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