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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Federal and State Legal Systems

What is the difference between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the state prosecutor’s office (whether the district attorney, county/city prosecutor, or the state attorney general’s office)?

The U.S. Attorney's Office represents the United States in federal cases, meaning they arise from federal law created by Congress. These cases are heard in federal courthouses throughout the country. State and local prosecutors, by contrast, represent the state for cases arising under state law,, created by each state legislature. Occasionally, federal and state law may overlap in a certain area, allowing both federal and state prosecutors to pursue the case.

What are federal crimes?

There are many federal crimes. Some federal crimes involve narcotics, bank robbery, fraudulent activity that affects interstate commerce, wire fraud, mail fraud or tax fraud, any crime in which the United States is defrauded, guns, environmental crimes, and civil rights violations. Some crimes may violate both state and federal laws, such as bank robbery. In these cases, the local U.S. Attorney's Office works closely with state and local law enforcement officials to determine whether a case will be brought in federal or state court.

investigations & violations of law

Does the U.S. Attorney's Office investigate crimes?

Investigations are generally conducted by federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, Internal Revenue Service, Postal Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and others. We also frequently take cases from state and local agencies. The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices work with those agencies to provide direction and legal counsel in federal criminal investigations.

What should I do if I have evidence of a federal crime?

You should contact your local FBI office for information or assistance. You can find your local FBI office through their website at: or by calling 202-324-3000.

What should I do if I have evidence of a state crime?

If you believe you have credible evidence of violations of state or local law, you should contact your state or local law enforcement agencies, as appropriate.

How can I find out if a particular matter is being investigated by the federal government?

If you are a victim of a federal crime and have been dealing with a law enforcement agency, you should contact that law enforcement agency to follow up on the status of the case. Longstanding Department practice prevents the Executive Office for United States Attorneys from confirming or denying the existence of particular matters or investigations, and cannot discuss the status of any matter that may be pending in a United States Attorney’s Office. Please be assured that all allegations of federal law violations are taken very seriously by all United States Attorneys’ offices.

What if the U.S. Attorney declines a case?

The United States Attorneys’ offices carefully review potential cases in light of the guidelines set forth in the Principles of Federal Prosecution. As a general matter, federal prosecutions may be declined for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, situations in which a person is subject to prosecution in another jurisdiction or another adequate alternative to prosecution is available.

What can I do if my civil rights have been violated?

Executive branch attorneys generally do not investigate these types of allegations or provide legal assistance or advice to private citizens. However, if you believe you were a victim of a civil rights violation, you may direct your complaint and supporting evidence to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Main, Washington, DC 20530.


How can I get legal advice or help?

United States Attorneys’ Offices do not represent individuals in matters or lawsuits you may wish to bring against another person, company or government agency. They only represent the United States, its officers, agencies and employees and are generally limited by law to giving legal advice only to federal officials and agencies. In some criminal cases where the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the defendant may be provided representation through the Federal Public Defender's office.

Can you suggest someone who could represent me?

No. Our office is not permitted to make direct referrals. We suggest that you consult private legal counsel, contact a local law school that has a legal clinic program, or contact a legal aid society regarding your rights and any remedies that may be available to you in this matter.

What can I do if my lawyer is not properly helping me?

If your attorney was appointed by the court and is not effectively representing your interests, you should raise this issue with the court, which can address any considerations you have and may be able to appoint a different attorney. If you hired a private attorney to represent you and you are unsatisfied with their services, you should raise your concerns with your state bar association.

Can the DOJ help me get a ruling in a case?

No. The Department of Justice as part of the executive branch of the United States Government has no authority over the judiciary’s handling of its cases.


How can I get my sentenced reduced for helping the government in a case?

The United States Attorney has exclusive jurisdiction to file a Rule 35(b) motion for downward departure of a sentence based upon, but not limited to, such factors as the defendant providing substantial assistance, his or her criminal conduct in the instant case, and the defendant's role in the alleged offense. If you believe your cooperation warrants a reduction in your sentence, a private attorney familiar with this area of the law would be in the best position to represent your interests in this matter.

How do I challenge my sentence?

The courts are bound by law and must impose a sentence as established by law, taking into consideration sentencing statutes and the sentence guideline range fixed for that offense. The guideline ranges have been established to ensure that the sentences for similar offenses or similar defendants will usually be uniform throughout the country. If you believe your sentence was calculated incorrectly an attorney familiar with this area of the law would be in the best position to represent your interests.

How can I file a motion to vacate my sentence or appeal my case?

The United States Department of Justice, as the federal agency representing the United States Government, is generally limited by law to giving legal advice only to federal officials and agencies. If you have any questions regarding the status of the case or how to properly file your motion you should contact the Clerk of the Court who will be able to advise you on the proper procedures.

How can I appeal my conviction or sentence?

The appropriate venue for appealing your conviction is a court of law. A private attorney would be in the best position to determine what, if any, possible recourse exists for you at this time. If you have any questions regarding the status of the case or how to properly file your motion you should contact the Clerk of the Court who will be able to advise you on the proper procedures. If available, federal public defenders or legal aid attorneys may also answer such questions regarding appeal.

How can I get a pardon?

You should contact the Office of the Pardon Attorney for information on eligibility and procedures for applying for Executive Clemency. Additional information can be found at:

What do I do if I have been the victim of a federal crime?

If you have reported a federal crime to a law enforcement agency and it is still under investigation but has not yet been charged, you should contact that law enforcement agency to follow up on the status of the case. Once the case has been charged, you should contact the Victim-Witness Coordinator at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District in which the crime was prosecuted, who will be able to provide information and assistance within the law. You can find your U.S. Attorney’s Office through our website at:


How can I report federal prison conditions, the inmates, or prison employees?

Typically, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has primary responsibility for addressing these types of complaints. You should first consider raising your complaints through your facility’s Administrative Remedy Program. That program provides for a formal and graduated process for bringing complaints, starting with a Request for Administrative Remedy Informal Resolution, and escalating all the way to a BP-11 national appeal. We suggest you review your Admissions and Orientation Handbook, which explains the Administrative Remedy Program in detail.

How can I request a prison transfer within the federal prison system?

All requests for transfers or re-designations must originate with the inmate’s Unit Team at his or her current facility. The Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) then evaluates referrals submitted by institution staff and makes decisions based on the information provided by the institution to determine if transfer to a facility closer to the inmate’s family and friends is possible. The Bureau of Prisons attempts to designate inmates to facilities commensurate with their security and program needs within a 500-mile radius of their release residences. If an inmate is placed at an institution more than 500 miles from his or her release residence, generally it is due to specific security, programming or population concerns.

How can I complain about state prison or request a transfer within the state system?

State prisons do not fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. Inquiries regarding prison conditions, conflicts with inmates or officials, or other complaints should be directed to the appropriate local or state office which oversees your state’s prisons.


NOTE: The Department of Justice has no authority to intervene in matters of state law. The Department of Justice can assume jurisdiction only when there has been a violation of federal law. Accordingly, you may want to consider consulting with local law enforcement agencies, your state’s Attorney General’s Office, or the appropriate state or local officials. Administrative members of the court with jurisdiction over your matter or private counsel may also be useful in addressing your concerns.