An investigation is the first step in the federal criminal justice process, taking place before any arrests are made. If a criminal offense is brought to the attention of federal authorities, by a victim of the crime, a witness to the crime, or a third party, the government will conduct an investigation into the alleged criminal act. The purpose of a federal investigation is to determine whether a federal offense has been committed and if it has, discover who is responsible for the crime and any evidence pertaining to the crime. Federal investigations can be aggressive, intensive and may involve multiple federal agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, IRS, and ICE. If you believe you may be under investigation for suspected criminal activity, or if you are involved in a federal investigation in some other capacity, the best way to protect your rights is to hire a knowledgeable, trial-tested criminal defense attorney with experience in federal court. Contact Federal Criminal Defense Pro today to schedule a free initial consultation with our team of federal crimes lawyers.
What You Should Do
There are certain things you should do as soon as possible if you are involved in a federal criminal investigation, to ensure that your rights are adequately protected and to avoid making any grievous mistakes that could end up hurting your case down the road. The following are the steps you should take right away after discovering that you are involved in a federal investigation.
Immediately hire a federal criminal defense attorney.
It is never too early to protect your rights and that includes discovering that you are being investigated by the federal government. If you are the target of a federal investigation, there is a good chance you will be indicted or arrested by the federal government, and the sooner you hire a federal criminal defense attorney, the sooner your attorney can begin putting together a solid defense strategy on your behalf. In our experience, defendants who hire a defense attorney to represent their case typically end up with a better outcome than those who don’t. Even if you are innocent of the crime, having an experienced defense lawyer on your side can help ensure that your rights are protected throughout the course of the government’s investigation, and, if criminal charges are filed, through each stage of your federal case.
Find out your rights.
The most important thing to remember when you are involved in a federal investigation is that you have rights. With legal guidance from a knowledgeable defense attorney, you can ensure that you understand these rights and what they mean for your case. For instance, your attorney can determine whether you may have violated federal law and advise you as to whether you should assert your Fifth Amendment right, which provides protection against self-incrimination. If federal agents show up at your home or office, you need to know whether you are legally required to let them enter and question you.
Be honest with your attorney.
The only way your defense attorney can adequately represent you is if he or she knows every crucial detail of your case. A good defense attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of his or her own, but there are certain facts you will need to provide so your attorney can determine the best course of action for your specific situation. Any statements you make to your attorney are privileged and confidential, so you should feel comfortable discussing the matter with your attorney freely.
Find out whether you are a witness, subject or target.
There are three distinct classifications for individuals involved in a federal investigation: witness, subject and target.
If you are a witness, the government may have reason to believe you have information about a crime that someone else committed.
If you are a target, then you are a person the government believes has committed a crime.
If you are a subject, you aren’t necessarily the main target of the investigation, but the government likely believes that you may have done something wrong.
Keep in mind that, as a federal investigation progresses, your status can change. You could potentially be upgraded from a subject to a target as the government collects evidence pertaining to the criminal allegations.
Consider whether you want to cooperate with the investigation.
You may decide that you want to speak to the authorities and cooperate with their investigation, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong. This could go a long way to convincing the government that you are not guilty. However, it is not uncommon for individuals involved in a federal investigation to accidentally make statements that end up implicating them further. Given the extraordinarily high stakes, it is imperative that you speak to an attorney before deciding to cooperate in any federal investigation. Your attorney can advise you on whether meeting with prosecutors is in your best interest, and if so, establish the ground rules for the meeting.
Keep detailed records.
If you speak to a federal agent before retaining an attorney, it is important that you are able to tell your attorney exactly what was said by both sides during the conversation. The best way to do this is to write it down in a memo intended for your attorney. At the start of the memo, explain that the following notes are for your attorney’s review and write at the top of each page of the memo “Attorney Client Privileged.” Include every detail you can think of, whether it seems important or not, and add to the memo as you recall any additional notes.
Make copies of any pertinent documents.
If there are any physical or electronic documents you believe may be pertinent to the government’s investigation, make copies of the documents and/or computer hard drive to discuss with your attorney.
Find out what triggered the investigation.
Part of your defense attorney’s job is to find out how the federal investigation began. Some investigations are triggered by the filing of a criminal report, while others are the result of leads government agents receive from defendants in other criminal cases, and still others result from information gathered by the FBI, CIA or another federal agency.
Let your attorney do his job.
You hired your defense attorney because you needed someone on your side with skill and experience navigating the complexities of the federal criminal justice system, so let your attorney do his job. Provide as much information and details as you possibly can, but avoid micromanaging your case.
What You Should Not Do
Just as important as knowing what you should do if you are involved in a federal criminal investigation is knowing what you should not do. The following are the things you should avoid doing if you are involved in a federal investigation.
Don’t talk to anyone about the investigation.
If you talk to anyone other than your lawyer about the investigation, you run the risk of those people being questioned by the federal authorities or subpoenaed by the grand jury, in which case whatever you told them could end up being used against you. You could even end up facing obstruction of justice or witness tampering charges if the things you said can be twisted around to make it seem like you were attempting to influence the investigation. If you are considering speaking to someone about the investigation, consult your attorney first.
Don’t agree to an interview without your attorney present.
An interview with federal agents is an opportunity for them to try to trip you up and any mistakes you make in the interview, however innocent they may be, could be interpreted as intentional falsehoods or an admission of guilt. If the federal government requests an interview with you, your safest course of action is to inform them that you have an attorney, or you are in the process of hiring an attorney, and you aren’t willing to participate in or agree to an interview without consulting your attorney. Speaking to the FBI or another federal agency is just like testifying in court and having your attorney present during the interview can help you avoid misrepresenting facts, concealing information or making any other mistakes.
Don’t interfere with the investigation.
There are other actions you can take that could result in witness tampering or obstruction of justice charges. Under 18 U.S.C § 1510, “Whoever willfully endeavors by means of bribery to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information relating to a violation of any criminal statute of the United States by any person to a criminal investigator shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
If you do talk to the federal authorities or you are subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, you should always tell the truth. Lying to federal agents is a separate crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and you can be prosecuted for this crime whether you were under oath at the time of the lie or not.
Don’t destroy any documents.
Destroying documents pertaining to a federal investigation is a crime and you could end up facing additional charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1519 if you alter or destroy documents, records or other evidence. If you attempt to delete or modify files on your computer and your computer is confiscated as part of the investigation, the government will likely discover what you did and treat it as evidence of your guilt.
Don’t assume you are safe from prosecution.
Even if you believe you have done nothing wrong, you can’t assume that the government will see things your way. A federal investigation doesn’t always turn out the way you would expect and if you are in any way involved in such an investigation, you should respect the power and authority of the federal government and be aware that just because you are innocent of the crime in question doesn’t necessarily mean you are safe from prosecution.
Don’t presume that your current status in the investigation offers any sort of protection.
We mentioned earlier that your status in a federal investigation can turn on a dime. Just because you are a witness today, seemingly free from suspicion, doesn’t mean you can’t be considered a subject or even a target tomorrow. The main goal of a federal investigation is to get to the bottom of a suspected crime, and if the evidence points in your direction, the federal authorities will follow. This is the main reason we encourage anyone involved in a federal investigation to retain legal counsel.
Don’t forget how harsh the penalties for a federal offense can be.
Federal criminal offenses are punished far more severely than comparable state crimes. If your involvement in a federal investigation leads to charges being filed in federal court, you could face devastating potential penalties, possibly including a lengthy prison sentence, considerable fines, and other life-changing consequences. Hiring an attorney to protect yourself against potential federal criminal charges is worth it.
Contact Federal Criminal Defense Pro for Help
In the United States, both the states and the federal government have the power and authority to prosecute criminal offenses and the federal government has its own set of federal statutes, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and court procedures. Whether a particular crime has occurred and will be prosecuted by the federal government depends a great deal on the outcome of the federal investigation, which is why legal representation during this process is imperative. If you are involved in a federal investigation, whether you have been pinpointed as the main target in the investigation or you have simply been named as a subject of the investigation, your freedom and your future could be at risk. The government does not typically practice leniency in federal criminal cases, especially those involving serious offenses like white-collar crimes, drug crimes, violent crimes, sex crimes or internet crimes. No matter what type of crime the government is investigating, as a federal offense, the stakes are extremely high, and you should therefore not leave the outcome of the investigation to chance. Consult our seasoned criminal defense lawyers at Federal Criminal Defense Pro today to find out how we can protect your rights throughout a federal investigation.