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How Long Can The Federal Government Investigate You?

October 13, 2021 Federal Criminal Attorneys

If you are under federal investigation, you might feel uncomfortable, and with good reason. It can be like living in a fishbowl with no idea of what’s coming next. However, the longer the investigation drags on, the more you’ll just want it to be over with.

You can’t live a normal life when you could be charged with a federal criminal offense at the drop of a hat. The uncertainty alone can be unbearable.

The reason a federal investigation is so unpleasant is that if you can be spooked enough to act out, you might incriminate yourself and make the prosecutor’s job a whole lot easier.

Fortunately, most federal investigations must comply with the statue of limitations. That law dictates how long after an alleged offense the prosecutor has to press charges against the defendant. Unfortunately, it’s a long statute.

If the investigation continues while appearing to go nowhere, you’ll be happy to know you have options. A federal criminal defense attorney can help you free yourself from the apparently endless legal quagmire of being investigated.

Can I Get Out of a Federal Investigation?

It’s a possibility. Retaining legal counsel is the first thing you should do. It shows law enforcement that you are willing to defend yourself. Having experienced legal counsel in your corner can make it more difficult for the prosecutor to make a case against you.

Just the act of getting a lawyer can sometimes shift the balance enough to make the authorities decide that you are no longer worth investigating.

What Is a Federal Investigation?

Launching a federal investigation is the first order of business in the federal criminal justice process. Federal investigators are looking for potential federal law violations. Their mission is threefold:

  • Determine whether a federal crime has been committed.
  • Identify the responsible parties.
  • Collect evidence of the crime if a crime has been committed.

What Prompts a Federal Investigation?

Most federal investigations are triggered when someone files a legitimate crime report. They can also be implemented based on information received from defendants in pending criminal cases who want to exchange information for reduced charges.

Investigations can be launched based on data gathered by federal intelligence agencies like the CIA. They can be triggered by a concurrent civil investigation conducted by a regulatory agency like the FDA.

How Does a Federal Investigation Work?

Federal law enforcement personnel like FBI special agents do most of the work involved in building a federal criminal case for the prosecutor. Their activities include interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence.

Federal agents are assisted in their mission by a federal prosecutor who provides legal guidance and ensures that the agents have access to legal documents like search warrants and subpoenas. After the investigation is completed, the prosecutor will decide whether to press charges.

Federal agents are equipped with multiple tools to help them obtain information. Here are a few of the methods at their disposal:

  • Observe a suspect’s internet activity
  • Wiretap the phone
  • Conduct physical surveillance for extended periods
  • Have someone wear a wire or record incriminating phone calls
  • Interview witnesses
  • Execute search warrants
  • Examine evidence on laptops and smart phones
  • Check tax returns and bank statements
  • Issue grand jury subpoenas for documents and testimony
  • Conduct witness interviews and proffer sessions

The objective is to bring a federal indictment and secure a conviction. Federal agents are well-equipped to do that. They might arrive without warning at a suspect’s home at the crack of dawn to ask questions or conduct an interrogation. At that hour, most people are barely awake, and that gives the agents a powerful psychological advantage.

Federal agents might tell you that you are not a suspect. They merely need information from you about other criminals. You might feel so relieved that you lower your guard and say something self-incriminating.

You are unlikely to prevail against a team of highly trained special agents with the experience, the tools and the clout to bring about a conviction. However, that’s what a federal criminal investigation lawyer does best.

Are You the Target of a Federal Criminal Investigation?

Federal investigations can continue for years before charges are filed. The proceedings are often conducted in secret and involve classified documents. Agents may be sworn to secrecy.

Indeed, a target can remain blissfully unaware of the investigation until federal agents arrive to make an arrest. However, there are a few things that can tip you off:

  • A prosecutor informs you that you are the target of an investigation.
  • A federal agent calls you to set up a meeting.
  • Federal agents execute a search warrant at your home or office.
  • Agents appear in places you frequent to interrogate you.
  • A grand jury subpoena arrives demanding that you testify.
  • Business associates have been contacted, interviewed, searched or subpoenaed to testify about your alleged illegal activities.

What to Do If Federal Agents Want to Meet With You

Don’t talk to anyone about the investigation because anything you say or write can be used against you. Additionally, you’re going to need an experienced federal government investigation lawyer. Discuss the matter only with your attorney.




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