Frequently Asked Questions
Do you issue press releases on
No. We generally issue press releases only in the most significant
cases or in cases which might be of particular public interest.
The U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutes and defends thousands of other
Why does the U.S. Attorney's
Office frequently say "No Comment"?
In most instances, the U.S. Attorney's Office declines to comment
on pending cases or investigations. This is so for two reasons.
First, any matters occuring before the grand jury are secret as
a matter of law, and we are prohibited from discussing them. Second,
Justice Department guidelines, as well as considerations of fairness
to defendants require that we not make comments which could prejudice
a defendant's right to a fair trial. Rules of professional conduct,
rules of court, and potential compromise of the investigation.
What information can the U.S. Attorney's
We can and do provide information which is in the public record,
either through documents which have been publicly filed with the
court or statements made in open court. We can also provide status
information about a case such as the next scheduled appearance.
What are other sources of information
about the federal courts?
The most direct source is to go to the Clerk's office in the courthouse
where the case was filed and ask to see the pleadings in the case
in which you are interested. The Clerk of Court maintains a web
site at http://www.txwd.uscourts.gov/.
What kind of cases does the U.S.
Attorney's Office handle?
This office prosecutes federal criminal cases in the Western District
of Texas. The Western District stretches from El Paso in the West
to Waco in the Central section of Texas, down to Austin and San
Antonio. In addition, the U.S. Attorney's Office defends the United
States in civil suits brought against it, and brings civil cases
to recover money for taxpayers, preserve the environment, and ensure
citizen's civil rights.
What is the difference between the
U.S. Attorney's Office and the District Attorney's (D.A.'s)
The U.S. Attorney's Office represents the United States in federal
cases, including all federal criminal cases. These cases are heard
in any of the seven federal courthouses in the District: in San
Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Waco, Midland, Del Rio and Pecos. The
D.A.'s Office, by contrast, prosecutes state crimes, not federal
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 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.
Does the U.S. Attorney's Office
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 Naturalization Service,
and others. We also frequently take cases from state and local agencies.
The U.S. Attorney's Office works with those agencies to provide
direction and legal counsel in federal criminal investigations.
What is a federal grand jury?
Federal prosecutors charge most cases by presenting evidence to
a federal grand jury which is made up of 23 jurors. The grand juries
serve two functions: they investigate cases through reviewing documents
and hearing witness testimony, and they return indictments when
they find probable cause to believe that a defendant has committed
the crime charged. By law, grand juries operate in secret.
Why are the grand jury's proceedings
The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require that grand jurors
and federal prosecutors keep grand jury proceedings, including the
existence of a federal criminal investigation, completely secret
unless and until the grand jury returns an indictment against one
or more defendants. Witnesses, other than law enforcement officials,
called to testify before the grand jury are not generally under
the same secrecy requirements. However, under most circumstances
it is illegal for prosecutors to reveal the details of grand jury
deliberations. This is one of the reasons that the U.S. Attorney's
Office generally declines to comment on cases under investigation.
What are the steps in a criminal
Charges are filed: A defendant is charged
either by complaint, indictment or information. A complaint is
an initial charging document signed by the Magistrate Judge that
describes the charges against a defendant. A person can be arrested
and charged by complaint before a grand jury has found probable
cause to return an indictment, but a person charged by complaint
then has the right to be indicted by a grand jury. An indictment
is similar to a complaint in that it describes the charges against
a defendant, but it is returned by the grand jury. Most felony
cases are charged by indictment. An information, as opposed to
an indictment or complaint, is the charging document where a
defendant is charged with a misdemeanor (although some defendants
give up their right to be indicted by a grand jury and are charged
by information instead). A misdemeanor information may be filed
by the U.S. Attorney's Office without approval by the court or
a grand jury.
Initial Appearance and Detention: The defendant's
initial appearance in federal court is before a Magistrate Judge.
The defendant is told what charges he or she faces and the maximum
penalties. The Court makes an initial determination whether the
defendant will be held without bond or released on certain conditions.
Frequently there is another hearing later about whether a defendant
will be confined or released pending trial. This is called a
Arraignment: After the grand jury indicts a defendant,
the defendant is informed by the Magistrate Judge of the charges
and penalties during the hearing known as an arraignment. The defendant
enters a plea of not guilty at this point.
Trials and pleas: If the charge is a felony,
following arraignment the defendant will appear before a United
States District Judge. Most proceedings, including motions, trial
or sentencing, take place before the District Judge.
Trial or Plea: A defendant will generally either
plead guilty to charges or proceed to trial before a District Judge.
In a trial, the United States must prove the charges to a jury of
12 citizens beyond a reasonable doubt. The law requires that a criminal
defendant be tried within 70 days of indictment, though that time
is sometimes extended because of motions filed by the defense or
Sentencing: After a guilty plea or guilty verdict,
a defendant is sentenced by the United States District Judge. The
range of sentence is dictated by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines,
which take into account a number of factors including the defendant's
criminal history and the nature of the conduct. The U.S. Probation
Office prepares a presentence report to help the Court and parties
arrive at the appropriate sentence. The Court may also order the
defendant to pay restitution and/or a fine.
Appeal: A defendant may appeal his or her
conviction or sentence under certain circumstances. Appeals in
federal cases are heard by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,
which covers a number of states, but has its headquarters in
New Orleans, Louisiana. The U.S. Attorney's Office also represents
the United States in appeals before the Fifth Circuit.