To be indicted in federal court is probably one of the most intimidating things that a citizen of this country can face. Under normal circumstances, federal cases start with an indictment, which is brought by the grand jury and filed in the federal court. A summons is served on an individual and they have to appear for an original appearance before the federal Magistrate.

Sometimes, an individual will know that they are being investigated by the federal government prior to an indictment. If you receive a target letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office, do not ignore this letter. A target letter is usually sent out to suspects who are soon to be indicted and whom the U.S. Attorney's Office wishes to get involved early in the case. Other common ways a person may be made aware that they are subject to a federal investigation is if they are contacted by law enforcement or BCI. If a BCI agent or any member of law enforcement contacts you or wants to discuss drug activity or any federal crimes in your area, it is important that you contact an attorney.


A federal grand jury is a body that is impaneled by the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate cases regarding federal crimes. In West Virginia, the Federal Court system is divided into two parts, the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia and the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The proceedings of the federal grand jury are closed and confidential, and although they may meet at your local federal courthouse, jury members are told that they are not to speak about this matter to anyone and they are usually sequestered from the public. Sometimes the federal grand jury can meet for many weeks, hearing testimony and hearing evidence regarding a case. The U.S. Attorney's Office usually uses the federal grand jury as a method of preservation of testimony of various witnesses who have been involved in criminal activity. They also use the federal grand jury as more of an investigative arm to fully investigate and flush out cases prior to bringing an indictment. Sometimes, it will be many months after the grand jury has met before charges will be handed down.


Many times, a citizen will receive a subpoena to testify before the federal grand jury. If you receive a subpoena to testify to the federal grand jury, it is important that you contact a lawyer immediately. There are certain procedural rights and testimonial rights that you have whenever you are witness before the grand jury. If you are not able to hire a lawyer regarding your appearance, the federal court can appoint a CJA panel lawyer or a lawyer from the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent you on any appearances before the grand jury.

The federal grand jury must consist of at least six people and not more than 23 people. For an indictment to be found against someone in the federal grand jury, there must be a concurrence of twelve or more jurors, meaning twelve or more jurors must agree to the indictment being returned. Often in modern times, the federal grand jury has functioned more as an arm of the prosecutor's office, be it the federal prosecutor's office or the state prosecutor's office. The original intention of the framers of the constitution was that the federal grand jury by itself would be an investigative body and would be a check on the power of the prosecutor's office. Sometimes the federal grand jury does question the attorney of a prosecutor, but it is a rare case that it does.


The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives us the right to have the federal grand jury. Under the Fifth Amendment, it is a requirement that no person be held to answer for an infamous crime unless charged by a “grand jury established,” which is an independently established body from the court and the prosecutor to scrutinize the evidence against a potential defendant.

The original framers of our Constitution recognize that the prosecutor's office and the court system itself can become fraught with problems. It is for this reason that they developed the grand jury system to provide a check on those powers. Unfortunately, today, the grand jury system functions more as an extension of the prosecutor's office. Another constitutional right wherein citizens become involved in the procedural process is with the jury trial system. The framers of our Constitution also wanted important decisions like whether someone was guilty or innocent to be determined by a group of our peers of twelve or more people. These are very important rights and we should always make sure that they are upheld.

If you have been subpoenaed for the federal grand jury, sometimes it will be because you might be a target yourself, meaning that the U.S. Attorney's Office has decided that they have substantial evidence linking you to the crimes that they are investigating. Being that you are a target for the federal grand jury, you need to be brought before the federal grand jury. The federal grand jury can question you about your involvement in the crime, and it is important that you have an attorney with you at every stage of this procedure.


What can a lawyer do for you if you have been subpoenaed for the federal grand jury? The Federal Grand Jury has the power to subpoena witnesses and targets. A target is a person whom the United Attorney’s Office is seeking to indict. The Federal Grand Jury for the Northern District of West Virginia meets in regular intervals, in the point of holding for the Federal Courts. In the Northern District of West Virginia, the Federal Grand Jury will meet in the following locations:

  1. United States District Court
    Northern District of West Virginia
    500 West Pike Street
    Clarksburg, West Virginia 26302
  2. United States District Court
    Northern District of West Virginia
    300 Third Street
    Elkins, West Virginia 26241
  3. United States District Court
    Northern District of West Virginia
    217 West King Street
    Martinsburg. West Virginia 25401
  4. United States District Court
    Northern District of West Virginia
    1125 Chapline Street
    Wheeling, West Virginia 26003


There is no constitutional right to have counsel in the grand jury proceeding. The only persons that are present in the grand jury proceedings in federal court is the grand jury, witnesses and a representative of the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Assistant U.S. Attorney, who is usually conducting the grand jury, is a lawyer who asks questions of the witness and oversees the presentation of the case to the federal grand jury.

However, even though an attorney has no right to be present inside of the proceedings, an attorney is essential to advise you about what rights you have, what direction the government is going to in its investigation, whether you have the ability to quash the subpoena and also to negotiate with the U.S. Attorney's Office regarding any of your testimony before the grand jury.

Motions to quash can be filed on witnesses who have been subpoenaed for the federal grand jury. Sometimes, a motion to quash includes technical or substantial errors in the subpoena itself. One strategy a lawyer may employ is for the client to adopt the Fifth Amendment rights in order to quash the subpoena. Generally, the lawyer would have the witness say: "I respect the wish to invoke my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer this question." If this is the route that the attorney and witness wish to take, the Assisting United States Attorney in this matter can always then grant immunity in such cases.

If immunity is granted for that witness, any testimony that he provides will not be used against that witness in subsequent proceedings. If immunity has been granted to a witness before the federal grand jury and the witness still refuses to testify, the U.S. States Attorney's Office can go forward on a contempt proceeding against that witness.

Again, all of these things are quite complicated and will need to be discussed with an attorney, depending on the facts of the case.


The federal grand jury has returned an indictment against you. You will receive a summons to appear before the U.S. District Court Federal Magistrate to face the charges. The United States Federal Magistrate will arraign you on these charges. You will be required to make you appears in any of the four Federal Courthouses located in the Northern District of West Virginia: Clarksburg, West Virginia; Elkins, West Virginia; Wheeling, West Virginia or Martinsburg, West Virginia.

At this point, it is imperative that you contact a lawyer immediately. If you cannot hire a private attorney, you have a constitutional right to an attorney; you can contact the court and fill out the appropriate paperwork to have the Federal Offender's Office represent you or have a CJA panel lawyer appointed on your case.

If you cannot afford a lawyer in the Northern District of West Virginia, there are two sources of attorneys who will handle your case free of charge. The first is the Federal Defender's Office located in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The Federal Defender's Office routinely takes the majority of cases that are brought against individuals in the Federal District Court of West Virginia. However, on those cases that are a conflict or cases where additional help is needed, there are CJA panel attorneys located in each of the areas of the federal district courts who the Federal Magistrate Judge will appoint to represent you.

Upon receiving a summons and a copy of the indictment from the federal grand jury, a date and time will be set for your arraignment. An arraignment must be conducted in open court and certain requirements must be met under Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

First of all, the federal magistrate who conducts the arraignment wants to make sure that you have received a copy of the indictment or information, and that you have read it or it will be read to you in federal court. A federal magistrate will ask you if you have a plea to the indictment or the information. At this stage of the proceeding, the federal magistrate will normally enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf and will inquire about the conditions such as bond and conditions of release.


The Bail Reform Act of 1984 was set up by Congress and this act, along with federal law and federal procedure, set the requirements that the court must look at in determining bond for an individual. Under the federal Bail Reform Act, which is found in section 3142, there are various options for the setting of bail. In West Virginia, the Federal Magistrate is responsible for the setting of bail in all federal criminal matters. The possible outcome of a bail hearing can be as follows:

  1. The Federal Magistrate can release a person on their own personal recognizance, which will have additional restrictions. Further, any person on bail will be under the supervision of the Federal Probation Office, with reporting requirements to the Federal Probation Office. Further restrictions include, but are not limited to, required reporting, travel restrictions and drug testing.
  2. In some situations, the Federal Magistrate can order a person to be placed on home confinement under the supervision of the Federal Probation Officer. This is rarely used and depends on the circumstance of each individual case.
  3. The next most common result can be detention. Upon a motion by the Government detention can be sought. The Defendant has the right to a detention hearing under 18 U.S.C. Section 3142(f). It is essential that any Defendant have an attorney when faced with a detention hearing.

If a person is not a risk of flight or danger and has strong ties to the community, more often than not, they are granted bail of some form. However, in the Northern District of West Virginia, if a person is released on their personal recognizance, there are other requirements that are normally set.

First of all, the defendant must not violate any state or federal law upon release. Second, the defendant must cooperate with the collection of a DNA sample. Third, the defendant must advise the court or the U.S. Attorney in writing before changing their telephone number and/or address. Fourth, the defendant must appear in court and they must agree to surrender for any sentence later imposed. Also, the defendant must be required to attend any and all court proceedings.

Restrictions can be limited to the Northern District of West Virginia and physically remaining in this district is also routinely is a requirement of release. In addition, an individual must maintain and seek active employment and avoid all contact with persons who may be witnesses or investigating against them.

Since a person has now been charged with a felony in federal court, they cannot possess a firearm, destructive device or dangerous weapon, and the federal magistrate will place a restriction on excessive use of alcohol and they cannot use or possess any narcotics. In order to see that these conditions are met, the U.S. Probation Officer in the Northern District of West Virginia also functions as a pretrial services officer and will be supervising the individual to make sure that he/she follows the conditions.

If this has been your initial appearance before the federal magistrate and you do not have a lawyer at this point and time, the federal magistrate will inquire whether or not you have the funds to hire an attorney. You have to fill out certain paperwork with the federal government showing that you meet the requirements to have either the Federal Public Defender's Office or a CJA panel lawyer appointed for you. It is essential that you either hire counsel at this point or request counsel.

This case is going to be on a trial track and a trial date will soon be set. You will have to come back and make another appearance with your counsel, so it is imperative that you do hire a reliable lawyer to fight for your rights.