Before anyone is indicted for a federal crime, a criminal investigation is the first stage in the criminal justice process in a federal court. If a credible alleged offense is reported to a federal law enforcement agency, then the government will launch an investigation.
The initial report could come from a witness, victim, or another party. Obviously, the primary purpose of a federal criminal investigation is to determine whether a federal crime was committed and who committed it.
The primary investigative federal law enforcement agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security, and others.
These federal agencies are responsible for investigating civil and criminal violations of federal law. They all report to prosecutors at the United States Justice Department, where decisions are made on whether or not to open a formal criminal investigation or to file federal charges. Federal criminal investigations are typically complex and often involve multiple agencies.
There are many ways to determine if you are actually under an investigation. You might have received a target letter or a Grand Jury subpoena. You might have received a phone call from the FBI, or they left a business card on your door to request an interview.
If you reason to believe you are being investigated for criminal activity, or you are already involved in a federal investigation, there are certain steps you need to take immediately. You need to make sure your rights are protected and avoid making mistakes that will haunt you later.
To give readers information on what to do if you're involved in a criminal investigation, our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing a detailed review below.
Retain a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately
If you are the target of a federal criminal investigation, then there is a good chance you will be arrested and then indicted by federal prosecutors. Early intervention into your case by a seasoned federal criminal lawyer can prove crucial to the outcome of the case.
Once you retain a lawyer, they can start developing a defense strategy on your behalf. In many cases, federal criminal defendants who retained a lawyer early in the process end up with a better outcome compared to defendants who wait too long.
When you are under a federal criminal investigation, you still have legal rights. With guidance from your lawyer, you will be able to clearly understand these rights and how they apply to your case. For example, you lawyer could let you know about your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and what you should do if federal agents coming visit you at home or work.
It's crucial to note that you need to always be completely honest with your lawyer. In order to develop a solid strategy, they need to know all the details of the case. Most experienced federal defense lawyers will conduct their own independent investigation, meaning they need to know everything in order to decide the appropriate actions in your case. All information and statements you share with your defense lawyer are confidential and privileged by law.
Remain Silent and Don't Talk to Law Enforcement
It's not uncommon for suspects who are under a criminal investigation to believe they can handle the situation on their own because they didn't do anything wrong. This misconception often results in suspects agreeing to talk to federal law enforcement agents when they come knocking on their door.
Most federal agents are experienced and know how to elicit incriminating statements while assuring suspects they are simply there is ask a couple of innocent questions.
Most people have little or no experience in the federal criminal justice process and often feel overwhelmed and have a sense they need to cooperate to stay out of trouble. In spite of their courteous manner and calming easy going demeanor, they are not on your side.
Anyone considering making statements needs to understand that FBI agents are allowed to lie to you. They will tell you just about anything in order to get you to volunteer information before you realize you should first consult with an attorney.
Anyone who is under questioning will normally become defensive and not make statements that could expose their involvement in unlawful activity. They will also frequently minimize their involvement in the issues that are under investigation.
In such a situation, this defensive posture can get them in trouble because under federal law, withholding or misrepresenting information to a federal agent is a crime. This means remaining silent and keeping your mouth shut is crucial to the outcome of your case.
If you do talk to the federal agents or you are subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, you need to be honest. Lying to federal agents is a separate federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, false statements, and you can be prosecuted whether you were under oath or not.
Don't Interfere with the Investigation or Destroy Documents
Don't interfere with the investigation and let your attorney work for you. Part of your attorney's job is to find out how and why the federal criminal investigation started. Some investigations start after the filing of a criminal report, and others start as a result of leads federal agents receive from outside sources or defendants in other criminal cases.
You retained a federal criminal lawyer due to the fact you needed someone with experience navigating the complex federal criminal justice system. Thus, let them do their job. Of course, you should remain in regular contact and provide them with any relevant information.
If you panic and start attempting to take action on your own, you could find yourself in an even worse situation. For example, if you decide to take action by contacting potential witnesses in the case, you could be charged with 18 U.S.C § 1510 witness tampering or obstruction of justice charges.
18 U.S.C § 1510 states that anyone who “willfully by means of bribery to obstruct, delay, or prevent communication of information relating to a violation of any federal criminal law by any person to a criminal investigator shall be imprisoned or fined.”
Destroying documents that are relevant to a federal investigation is a crime and you might face an additional charge under 18 U.S.C. § 1519. This statute also prohibits altering records or other types of evidence.
For example, if you attempt to destroy or modify files on your computer, and federal agents seize your computer as part of their investigation, they are likely to discover your illegal conduct and will use that information as evidence of your guilt on the original crime under investigation.
Contact Our Federal Criminal Lawyers for Help
It's not uncommon for people who are under a federal criminal investigation to believe they have not done anything illegal and that federal agents and prosecutors will just eventually discover they were right.
A federal criminal investigation is a serious issue and you don't know how it will end. Just because you believe you are innocent of any crimes, that doesn't mean you are safe from being prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to a federal prison.
Federal crimes carry severe penalties compared to a state-level crime. If the criminal investigation results in charges being filed against you in a federal court, you are facing potentially life-changing punishment that could include years in prison.
If you are under a federal criminal investigation, legal representation at this early stage in the process is crucial to the outcome. Your freedom and way of life is at risk.
Federal prosecutors are often very aggressive in pursuing convictions for violations of federal law, especially in serious crime like drug offenses, child pornography, fraud crimes, computer crimes, internet crimes, and white collar crimes.
Our experienced federal criminal defense lawyers need to closely examine all the details of your case in order to develop an appropriate strategy.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm based in Los Angeles County that represents clients facing any type of federal investigation or crime. We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact our firm for an immediate consultation at (877) 781-1570.