Being under federal investigation for a suspected crime is very upsetting and stressful. Below are some of the important things to know if you think you are under federal investigation.
How You Know
You know you are under federal investigation in one several ways:
- There is a knock at the door: Most people who are being investigated by the federal authorities learn about it when law enforcement simply knocks on the door. Usually, two federal investigators will start asking you questions about yourself after they identify themselves.
- You receive a search warrant: Another common way you can learn you are under federal investigation is when the police execute a search on your property or office.
- You receive a subpoena: If you own a business, you may learn about an investigation when the company gets a subpoena for its records.
- OIG meeting for federal employees: If you work for the federal government, you may learn about the investigation through contact by the Office of the Inspector General. The OIG agent will talk to you and say there is an investigation and that they want to ask you questions.
- Target letter: A federal prosecutor may send you a letter stating that you are under federal investigation. Many times, this is an invitation to appear before the prosecutor and agent and discuss the case.
- You also can learn you are under investigation through the grapevine, such as friends, family and coworkers. The advantage of learning in this way is that you know about it before you are contacted by federal agents.
What You Should Do
In most cases, you should hire an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as you learn that you are being investigated. Do not wait to be charged: Get an attorney immediately. Federal investigations are complicated, are regarding serious crimes, and the consequences are severe if convicted. Further, the federal authorities have vast resources and will be working hard to convict you. Having an experienced attorney defending you is a necessity.
It is really important to hire a good attorney as early in the investigation as possible. This allows him or her as much time as possible to construct a defense. It also ensures that you do not provide incriminating statements to federal agents that harm your defense.
Your attorney must be licensed to practice in the federal court when the case is being adjudicated. Or, he or she must receive permission of the court to practice there for your case.
Remember regardless of whether you are being investigated for a federal crime, you still possess your constitutional rights. Unless the agents have a search warrant, you may decline to speak to them or allow them into your house or place of business. Without a search warrant, the federal authorities only can get your name and address. You should refuse to answer questions unless your attorney is present.
Do Not Lie
Telling a lie to a federal agent is a crime. You do not have to be under oath to be prosecuted if you lie to a federal agent. Every offense can be punished by five years in prison. Further, if you are found to be lying in some investigations, such as a sex crime or terrorism, you can be sentenced to eight years in prison.
When federal agents question you, it always will be two agents. The purpose is that each agent is a witness for what you are saying to the other agent. One agent will usually ask questions and the other will write down what you say.
If you do speak with federal agents, remember again to have your attorney there, and request that the interview be recorded. That way there is an official record of what was said.
Only Talk to Your Attorney
Do not speak to anyone else about the investigation except your lawyer. You are being investigated for a federal crime, so anyone you speak to can be interviewed by federal agents. All family, friends and colleagues can be subpoenaed to the grand jury to provide evidence against you. Even if you tell your most trusted friend about the crime, they will be required to testify under oath against you.
Another reason to only speak to your lawyer is that he or she is not allowed in the grand jury room. So, you do not have any defense to what the witnesses who are there under subpoena will say. You also may not speak with any witness about what they will say in the grand jury proceeding; to do so is witness tampering and punishable by 20 years in prison.
Never Destroy Evidence
Destroying evidence is obstruction of justice, so do not tamper with, modify or destroy documents, no matter if they are electronic or paper. Deleting even one small portion of evidence qualifies as obstruction of justice and also is punishable by 20 years in prison.
Being under federal investigation is intimidating and stressful, so follow the aforementioned guidelines for the best possible outcome.