What to do if you are under Federal Investigation
Learning you are under federal investigation can be terrifying. Though the federal government is investigating you, this does not mean you will immediately be placed under arrest. Typically the ATF, DEA, FBI or other federal departments will notify an individual he or she is under investigation through a few different ways. Generally, federal agents may knock on your door to speak with you to see if you are willing to talk with them. If the agents are asking you questions about yourself or your whereabouts, this most likely means you are under investigation. Commonly, individuals will learn they are under investigation when the police come to the door with a search warrant. Federal agents believe you are involved in a crime and may have evidence inside your home. Executing a search warrant allows agents to search for evidence without your permission. Another way to learn you are under investigation is by receiving a subpoena. This is a direct order from the court that requires an individual to appear at a certain date and time in court to testify as a witness in a criminal case. This can also be a means of requiring an individual to produce documents or evidence that may help support facts in a pending case.
The fourth way you may learn you are under investigation is through a “target letter” from the Assistant United States Attorney. This letter will explain that you are the target of an investigation and will request you to come in and speak with a federal agent and prosecutor about the crime. Lastly, you may hear you are under investigation through friends, family, or word of mouth on the streets. By learning you are under investigation through others before speaking to agents will give you the rare luxury of knowing what agents are asking and looking for. If this happens, be careful what questions you ask or information to give as this may get back to federal agents and can be used against you as evidence. If you find you are under federal investigation, there are certain steps you should follow. The paragraphs below will explain five tips on what to do when you under federal investigation.
Hire an Attorney
Federal investigations can become more complex than state or local police investigations. To give you the best chance of survival through a federal investigation, hire an experienced attorney. By hiring an attorney, he or she will guide you through the legal process and stages of the investigation. The attorney will also guide and protect you through legal traps the government may put in your path. Most importantly, the attorney will represent and defend you if your case goes to trial. It is important to hire an attorney right away so he or she can better prepare for your defense. Also, be sure you hire the right type of lawyer for your case. For example, you do not want to hire a lawyer that represents securities fraud when your case is a DUI. Typically, an attorney will not take a case that he or she does not have experience in, but that is not always the case. Be aware and do your research before hiring an attorney to ensure you have the best representation.
Remember Your Rights
Always remember that you are still protected by your constitutional rights. Unless federal agents present a search warrant, you are allowed to refuse to speak with them or let them into your home. If law enforcement feels there’s is reasonable suspicion that you are about to commit a crime or have already committed a crime, without a search warrant they can only obtain your name and address. You can refuse any other information and politely ask them to leave your home or come back with a search warrant. If agents do have or come back with a search warrant, you must follow the federal agents’ instructions and comply with those instructions. You are recommended to refuse any questions without the presence of your attorney.
Lying to a federal agent is a crime under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001. This law states that you do not have to be under oath if you lie to a federal agent to be prosecuted for the crime. Each offense of lying carries a maximum of five years imprisonment. Furthermore, if you are found lying to law enforcement during certain investigations such as sex crimes, child trafficking, or terrorism, the sentence will be enhanced to eight years maximum incarceration. When the FBI or other federal agencies set out to question suspects or witnesses, agents will always be in pairs of two. The purpose of this is so that agents serve as each others witness to what you are saying in your statement. Typically, one agent will ask questions while the other writes down your answers. Recently a policy has been implemented through the Department of Justice that calls for subject interviews to be recorded. This protects the subject in question as well as the agents, yet there are several exceptions to the policy that allow for an interview to not be recorded. If you do decide to speak with agents, this can become a matter of the agents’ words against yours. For your protection, request the interview to be recorded.
Only Speak to Your Attorney
It is imperative that you avoid speaking to anyone other than your attorney. Since the federal government is investigating you, anyone you have spoken to can be interviewed by law enforcement. Family, friends, and colleagues can all be subpoenaed to share any information or evidence you may have shared with them in front of a grand jury. This information will be used against you in a grand jury. Even if you “trust” someone to tell them information about the crime, they will be forced under oath to testify the truth to the court. Furthermore, the defense attorney is not allowed in grand jury proceedings, therefore, you will have no defense representation to what the subpoenaed witnesses say. A defendant is forbidden to speak with any witness about complying with a subpoena to testify. If the court finds you have done so, you may be charged with obstruction of justice by tampering with a witness. This is a serious crime and carries a prison sentence of 20 years if convicted stated in 18 U.S.C. Section 1512.
Do Not Destroy Evidence
Along with tampering of a witness, destroying evidence is also a form of obstruction of justice. Never tamper, modify, or destroy documents whether the documents are electronically stored or on paper. Deleting even the smallest portion of evidence will call for obstruction of evidence charges. Under 18 U.S.C. Section 1519 there shall be a term of up to twenty (20) years imprisonment for any person who intentionally and knowingly impedes on any federal investigation by destroying or tampering with any records, documents, or evidence.