What to Do First if You Are Involved in a Federal Investigation
Federal investigative agencies like the FBI, DEA and IRS are tasked with investigating violations of federal criminal law, and any time a federal agent approaches you asking questions about an alleged crime, it is important to know what to do to avoid a criminal charge and the harsh, life-changing penalties that go along with a conviction at the federal level.
If you are involved in a criminal investigation by a federal agency, especially if you are a target of the investigation, there are certain steps you can take to protect your rights and minimize your exposure to criminal charges. In this article, we discuss some basic information about the federal criminal investigation process and what you should do if you are contacted by federal agents in connection with a criminal offense.
For more information about how the federal government investigates suspected criminal activity or to schedule a free case evaluation, contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers today and speak to one of our knowledgeable defense attorneys.
What is a Federal Investigation?
A federal investigation is the first step in the criminal justice process at the federal level. At this stage, federal agents with the FBI or another federal agency have reason to believe that you or someone else committed a crime and are searching for evidence that one or more federal laws were violated. The three main goals of a federal investigation are to:
1. Determine whether a federal crime has been committed,
2. Identify the parties responsible for the crime, and
3. Find evidence related to the crime, if any.
How Does a Federal Investigation Begin?
In most cases, the federal government will launch a criminal investigation in response to the filing of a crime report. In some cases, an investigation may be triggered by the receipt of information from a defendant in another criminal case or data gathered from a federal intelligence agency. There are several different ways you can learn that you are involved in a federal investigation. You may either:
• Be contacted by a federal agent who asks to speak with you about a criminal matter,
• Receive a target letter informing you that you are the target of a federal investigation,
• Receive a subpoena from a grand jury,
• Have federal agents show up at your home with a search warrant, or
• Learn about the investigation from someone else who has already been interviewed.
What Happens Next?
Once an investigation has begun, federal agents will work closely with the Assistant U.S. Attorney (federal prosecutor) overseeing the case, to gather evidence, interview witnesses and execute search warrants in hopes of proving that a crime has been committed. In the end, the prosecutor is the one who will decide whether to file formal criminal charges based on the outcome of the investigation. In some cases, a criminal investigation will involve multiple federal agencies or possibly even state or local agencies working together as part of a joint investigation.
Follow These Steps to Protect Your Rights
Obtain qualified legal representation immediately.
The single most important thing you can do upon learning that you are involved in a federal investigation in some way, is to retain the services of a reputable criminal defense lawyer who specializes in federal cases. Federal agents conducting a criminal investigation have the backing of the federal government and its almost limitless resources, and you will need a formidable defense attorney on your side to help guide you through the investigation as well as any criminal proceedings that may be initiated by the government at the conclusion of the investigation.
When you hire a criminal defense attorney right away after learning that you are a target, subject or witness in a federal criminal investigation, you can ensure that your legal rights are protected and you can also avoid making any mistakes that could implicate you in a federal crime. A good defense attorney will be familiar with federal investigations and can help you respond to the government’s inquiries in a way that puts you in the best position possible.
Avoid speaking to anyone about the investigation, including the authorities.
Until you have consulted an attorney with experience handling federal criminal investigations, you should avoid speaking to anyone about the investigation. That includes law enforcement. If the federal authorities approach you and ask to speak with you about any matter pertaining to a federal crime, you may feel compelled to cooperate with the investigation, thinking that it will help your case, especially if you are innocent of the crime in question.
However, without an attorney present, you could slip up and inadvertently incriminate yourself in a criminal matter, which could seriously damage your case. Remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in court. No matter what they tell you, federal agents investigating a crime are not on your side, nor do they want to help you.
It is also important to avoid speaking to anyone else about the federal investigation without first consulting an attorney. There are two main reasons for this. First, there is always the possibility that the person you talk to is working with the authorities and will relay to them everything you say. Even if it is someone you trust completely, it is likely that federal agents will eventually interview that person and find out what you said to them. Second, if you say something to a third party and that something is misconstrued as an attempt to cover up the facts, you could end up facing criminal charges for obstruction of justice, which is a separate offense carrying its own penalties. Even if you aren’t charged with obstruction of justice, any statement you make to a third party can be used against you in court.
Find out your status in the investigation.
Determining whether the government considers you a target or subject of the criminal investigation or merely a witness will have a significant impact on how you should respond. If you are a target, that means the government has substantial evidence linking you to a federal crime. If you are a subject, that means the government believes you have engaged in conduct that is suspicious or unethical but doesn’t have concrete evidence that a crime has been committed. If you are a witness, that means the government believes you have information that might be relevant to the investigation. Keep in mind that the government can adjust your status as the investigation progresses. If you start out as witness and the investigators uncover evidence that implicates you in the crime, you could be upgraded to a subject or target.
Consider whether you want to cooperate with the investigation.
If federal agents show up at your home and ask to speak with you regarding a criminal investigation, talk to your attorney and think about whether or not you should agree to talk to them. The decision to cooperate or not cooperate with a federal investigation is rarely an easy one to make. There are many different factors at play in a criminal investigation and the federal government has a great deal of power and influence when it comes to detecting and investigating federal crimes. No matter what the agents say though, remember that you are under no obligation to speak to them, and whatever tactics they use to try to pressure you into cooperating, the choice is entirely up to you.
Provide your attorney with as much information as possible.
If you have already spoken to federal agents about the criminal activity they are investigating, try to remember and write down everything you said to them so you can inform your attorney. This information will be invaluable as your attorney works to develop the strongest possible defense in your case. Every federal investigation is different and the best way to determine how to proceed is to find a criminal defense lawyer who can protect your rights and best interests at every stage of the process.
Contact Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers for Qualified Legal Representation
Learning that you are involved in a federal investigation either as a witness, subject or target can be overwhelming and frightening, especially if this is your first encounter with the federal criminal justice system. Being charged with a federal crime is an extremely serious matter and it can be difficult to know who to trust and where to turn for help when the federal government comes calling. That is why we always recommend consulting an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal options and determine what course of action is right for your specific situation. If you are involved in a federal investigation and you are in need of qualified legal representation, consult the reputable criminal defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers today. Our goal is to resolve the federal investigation as quickly and discreetly as possible without criminal charges being filed. The sooner you contact our firm, the sooner our lawyers can get to work protecting your rights.