criminal court records
People accused of violating federal laws will be charged in a U.S. District Court.
These criminal cases are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, etc.
Formal criminal charges are brought by a U.S. Attorney's Office.
There are a number of U.S. District Courts in California, each of which covers a particular geographic area of the state.
For example, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California covers counties along the north coast of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area.
A U.S. District Court also may have several branches. Thus there's a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which handles cases for the San Francisco Bay Area and counties elsewhere in Northern California. This court in turn has branches in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Eureka.
There is a separate alphabetical criminal index in each U.S. district court of the defendants charged with federal crimes in that court. Each court also keeps a calendar of hearings in pending criminal cases.
Federal Grand Juries
In federal criminal cases, a U.S. Attorney usually will present evidence to a federal grand jury, which then will make a decision on whether to issue a criminal indictment against a person.
The grand jury, which is a panel of ordinary citizens chosen like people selected for a trial jury, has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses in investigating a case and then deciding whether to deliver an indictment. Usually such subpoenas are issued at the request of the U.S. Attorney when he or she is outlining the case to the grand jury.
None of the grand jury proceedings are public.
On rare occasions a federal criminal complaint can be filed directly by a U.S. Attorney, usually when the person being charged waives their right to have the case handled by a grand jury. A complaint like this filed directly by a U.S. Attorney is called an "information."
For more on federal grand jury procedures, see:
- Frequently Asked Questions About the Grand Jury System - a guide by the American Bar Association
- Federal Grand Jury - a website put together by a University of Dayton law professor who wrote a book by the same name
Sample Grand Jury Indictments:
- Hacker of Sarah Palin's email account indictment - Smoking Gun website
- Barry Bonds indictment - Smoking Gun website
- Michael Vick indictment - Smoking Gun website
Sample Grand Jury Testimony:
- What Barry Bonds Told The Grand Jury - Smoking Gun website
Generally the other court procedures and the types of documents filed in federal criminal cases are similar to those in state cases.
One significant exception is that the transcript of a federal grand jury proceeding is not made public after an indictment is issued, in contrast to transcripts of superior court grand jury proceedings in California that are made part of the public court record after an indictment (although a federal judge can order that a transcript be made public).