If the government believes that you may have information that’s relevant to an ongoing criminal case, you will likely be contacted by a federal agent. It’s important to note that you have no legal obligation to answer any questions that this person may have. In fact, you may inadvertently incriminate yourself by talking to the government. Generally speaking, it’s in your best interest to ask for a lawyer to be present during any type of conversation with a government representative.
Why Should You Consider Talking to a Federal Agent?
Perhaps the best reason to talk with a federal agent is that it gives you an opportunity to add context to any allegations made against you. For instance, an agent may ask you why your computer’s IP address was found on a server that contained instructions on how to make an explosive device.
Answering the question in a satisfactory manner may help prove your innocence before authorities have reason to charge you with a crime. For example, you could explain that you were doing research for a book or conducting an investigation into your employer’s illegal activity. It may also be possible to present evidence that your computer was hacked and that you never visited such a site.
Why Should You Avoid Talking to Federal Authorities?
Let’s say that you weren’t able to provide a satisfactory answer to the question of why you were on a site that contained illegal content. This may lead authorities to believe that you had something to do with a recent assault on a government agent or cyber attack on a government website.
Of course, you may have been on a questionable site simply because you’re a weapons or technology enthusiast who would never think of harming anyone. However, you now find yourself in a situation where you have to admit to either looking at potentially illegal material or to being part of a conspiracy against the government.
This is one of the biggest reasons why it is in your best interest to ask to have an attorney present prior to talking to the authorities. He or she will be able to help you craft a response to any potentially incriminating questions that you might be asked. If necessary, your attorney will prevent you from answering any questions that might be designed to trap you as opposed to obtaining relevant information.
What Happens If You Refuse to Speak With a Government Representative?
If there is no probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime, nothing will happen after refusing a request to speak with a government agent. However, if there is reason to believe that you have broken the law, you may be taken into custody after declining such a request. In some cases, not talking to the government may lead to a charge of obstructing justice.
In the event that you are charged with obstruction, it’s important to remember that you haven’t been convicted of anything. Furthermore, you should keep in mind that you have the right to remain silent for the duration of the legal process. This means that you don’t have to say anything regardless of what the authorities do to compel you to talk.
Spouses May Have Expanded Fifth Amendment Rights
Generally speaking, you are not required to say anything that might incriminate your spouse. This means that you won’t have to talk to the authorities about something that your wife did or feel compelled to testify against your husband at trial. An attorney will likely be able to provide additional insight into what your rights might be as the spouse of someone who is wanted by the government.
You Always Have the Right to Change Your Mind
As a general rule, the government will be interested in talking to you at almost any point in their investigation. Therefore, if you don’t feel like talking when first contacted, you can reach out to the relevant government agency if you decide to submit a statement. Conversely, you’re generally allowed to stop an interrogation at any point. If an interview is taking place at your home or apartment, stopping an interview may be as easy as asking whoever is questioning you to leave the premises immediately.
If you have been contacted by the federal government, it’s important to remain calm. In most cases, you’ll be given a period of several weeks to decide what your next move will be. It’s important to note that an attorney may be able to answer any questions that you might have about making contact with federal authorities. An attorney may also be able to walk you through the interview process and ensure that your rights are respected throughout it.