What To Do If You’re Under Federal Criminal Investigation
Learning that you are under investigation for a federal crime, whether you actually committed the crime or not, is both unsettling and serious. For this reason, you should retain counsel immediately rather than wait to see if formal charges will be filed. As is more fully explained below, counsel will be able to communicate with both the investigating agency and the prosecutor to determine exactly what the investigation concerns. Thereafter, counsel will discuss the matter with you in detail and formulate a defense strategy designed to prevent charges from being lodged and/or to mitigate the seriousness of the ultimate charge.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Immediately
If you are the target or subject of a federal investigation, you should not speak to anyone or send any written information to anyone without legal representation. While it is tempting to share such alarming information with a friend or family member, doing so can actually harm your case. A skilled criminal defense attorney has the experience and knowledge to guide you through the process and protect your rights. They can advise you on how to respond (or not respond) to investigators’ questions and tactics. Retaining counsel quickly allows them to get involved right away to work on your behalf.
Understand the Investigation Process
In a federal criminal investigation, prosecutors and agents will work together in an attempt to bring a criminal charge against the target(s) of their investigation. The agents may come to your home without warning to interrogate you when you are least prepared. They may use deception and/or threats to persuade you to speak with them or to otherwise incriminate yourself or others, all of which may be used against you if a subsequent criminal case is brought.
Other investigative measures that federal law enforcement agencies use during the process include:
- Placing a wiretap on your phone
- Recording conversations
- Reviewing your financial documents
- Executing multiple search warrants
- Monitoring your daily activity (including your online activity)
As a result, it is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side who knows how the federal investigative process works and the tactics that may be used.
Do Not Speak to Investigators Without Your Attorney Present
You have the right to remain silent and not provide any statements to federal investigators. Anything you say can be used against you, so it is best not to speak to them at all without your criminal defense lawyer present. Politely decline to answer questions or provide information. Do not feel intimidated or let them trick you into thinking you are required to cooperate. Your attorney can handle communicating with investigators on your behalf.
Avoid Obstruction of Justice Charges
Be careful not to do anything that could be construed as obstructing justice, like destroying evidence or lying to investigators. That could lead to additional criminal charges. Your criminal defense attorney can advise you on how to avoid any missteps.
Understand Your Miranda Rights
If federal agents want to question or interview you, they must read you your Miranda rights first. This includes the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Invoke these rights immediately and do not answer questions without your lawyer present.
Review Your Finances and Records
Federal investigators will likely dig deeply into your financial, phone, email, and other records. Be prepared by gathering and reviewing your records so you understand what they may find. An attorney can help identify anything that could raise questions or look suspicious.
Consider Speaking with Investigators
In some cases, your defense attorney may recommend agreeing to a voluntary interview with investigators. They may conclude that speaking demonstrates you have nothing to hide. Declining may prolong the investigation. Your attorney can prepare you for what to expect and coach you on how to respond.
Do Not Try to Coordinate Stories
Resist any urge to contact associates or coordinate your stories. That can lead to conspiracy or obstruction charges. Let your attorney deal with the investigators. You could also be charged for making false statements.
Secure Legal Representation for Witnesses
If any associates, employees, friends or family members are contacted by investigators, advise them to secure their own legal counsel immediately. Their interests may not fully align with yours, so avoid even the appearance of coordination.
Research the Potential Charges
Work with your attorney to research potential charges you could be facing based on the investigators’ questions and document requests. Understanding possible penalties and defenses will aid your legal strategy.
Explore Plea Bargains
Your lawyer may assess your case and evidence and recommend exploring plea bargain options with prosecutors. Pleading guilty to lesser charges may be better than risking conviction at trial on more serious crimes.
Expect Pre-Indictment Motions from Your Attorney
Experienced federal defense attorneys know how to file pre-indictment motions challenging things like improper searches, seizure of privileged material, and procedural errors. This can undermine the prosecution’s case and even get charges dismissed before an indictment.
Don’t Panic If You Are Indicted
Being indicted or charged does not mean you will be convicted. Your lawyer will file motions to dismiss, suppress evidence, and undermine the prosecution’s case. Work closely with them to continue building the best defense.
Request a Pretrial Diversion
For some federal crimes and defendants with little or no criminal history, pretrial diversion may be an option. This involves meeting conditions like restitution, community service, rehabilitation programs, etc. in exchange for avoiding prosecution and a criminal record.
Consider Pleading Guilty
Your attorney may advise pleading guilty once the evidence and possible outcomes are weighed. Pleading may result in a lesser sentence or charges being dropped as part of a plea deal. But understand the consequences before making any plea.
Prepare for Trial if No Plea Agreement
Without a plea deal, your case will go to trial. Your legal team will continue filing motions while also preparing your defense strategy. You may also consider motions to suppress evidence or statements.
Testify or Remain Silent – Your Choice
Whether to testify at your trial is an important decision. Testifying allows you to give your account of events and rebut evidence. But it also opens you up to tough cross-examination. Discuss options thoroughly with counsel.
Sentencing Options if Convicted
If convicted at trial, work with your lawyer ahead of sentencing to present mitigating circumstances and letters of support to the judge. Explore all options to reduce your sentence, including appealing the conviction.
Consider a Conviction’s Collateral Consequences
The criminal conviction itself is not the only consequence if found guilty at trial. You may face loss of professional licenses, inability to possess firearms, disenfranchisement, immigration issues, and harm to your reputation.