If you get a knock on the door in the middle of the night, if agents appear at your workplace, if for any reason you feel you are under investigation by a federal investigative agency, you are probably right. There are actually a number of federal law enforcement groups that fall under the Department of Justice (DOJ). Depending on what is being investigated, that could include:
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), is the investigative authority whose responsibility includes investigation of illegal trafficking in firearms
- The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the agency responsible for enforcing controlled substances laws
- The mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is to “to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners”
- Under Homeland Security, the Secret Service (USSS) not only provides protection for the president and vice-president of the United States, it is the primary investigative and enforcement agency in cases of counterfeiting crimes
What is federal investigation?
A federal investigation is the first step in a criminal justice proceeding in which the investigative agency determines whether a federal crime has been committed, who is responsible, and what/where is the evidence. It is often a methodical, detailed and unrelenting probe into an alleged federal offense.
Federal offenses include a broad range of crimes that violate a federal law as opposed to a state law. For instance, murder is usually a state crime, but if the murder happened at the Apalachicola National Forest, it would be a federal crime since it was committed on U.S. government property. Crimes that are almost always federal crimes include, among others, currency counterfeiting, Medicare/Medicaid fraud, bank fraud, securities fraud, mail fraud (since it involves the United States Postal Service or, if it was a private carrier, it involved crossing state lines), electoral fraud, tax evasion, and any violations of the Espionage Act or the Patriot
Signs you are under federal investigation
You may now know that you’re being investigated until you receive a subpoena, so it’s important to know what to look for, especially if you think you might be the subject of a federal investigation:
- Word on the street: Sometimes, rumors are the first sign that something is up. If you hear something, it’s a good time to at least consider contacting a Florida federal criminal defense attorney with extensive experience in federal crime defense.
- Law enforcement shows up at your door: You don’t have to answer any questions, although you will certainly feel pressured to do so. In general, be very careful about saying anything. If you haven’t talked to a lawyer yet, do so at once.
- You feel you’re being watched: Yes, you may indeed be under surveillance.
- You are served with a search warrant: If this happens, do not resist, but do insist on seeing the warrant. It will feel like an invasion of privacy to have agents going through your home or office, your computer, through your bills and personal correspondence, looking through every closet, file, bookcase, tool box, kitchen cabinet and under mattresses, pillows and desks, even through the baby’s room and the garage. They have been given authority to do so by the court.
- You receive a subpoena: Like a search warrant, if you receive a subpoena for business or other potentially pertinent records or documents, you are required to comply.
- You receive a target letter: This makes it clear that you are being investigated. The letter comes from the prosecutor and includes information regarding what crime you are suspected of committing and your right to assert the Fifth Amendment.
What to do if you think you are under federal investigation
If you have been contacted by federal authorities either in person or by mail, have been served with a search warrant or subpoenaed, the most important thing to do is to get legal representation immediately. Even if you only suspect that you’re under investigation, trying to take the matter into your own hands will inevitably lead to getting you into deeper trouble. It’s natural to want to do something, but your best course of action is to let an experienced federal criminal attorney work on your behalf.
Things you should not do if you are under federal investigation
Above all, don’t panic and do something that you will regret. Remember, when you are the target of a federal investigation, the authorities and the prosecution have spent a fair amount of time and effort into building a case. Do not make their job easier by being reckless:
- Do not discuss the case with anyone except your lawyer: This includes family, friends, and coworkers. They may be subpoenaed and called as witnesses—meaning that anything you said to them can come out in court, where they are under oath.
- Do not put anything on social media: This is one of the first
places investigators will look to build a case against you.
- Definitely do not say anything to the authorities without your lawyer being present: If you think it’s uncomfortable being interviewed by local law enforcement, just
remember that FBI agents and agents of other federal investigative agencies use
sophisticated techniques in getting you to incriminate yourself.
- Do not try to “influence” witnesses or prospective witnesses: Witness tampering is against the law, and a conviction for this crime can mean a prison sentence of up to 20 years, plus a fine.
- Do not try to destroy evidence: Like witness tampering,
destroying evidence is illegal and carries stiff penalties. Moreover, the feds have the resources to recover electronic documents; so, trying to eliminate those will seldom work.
- Do not lie to government officials: It’s just one more crime
that the feds can charge you with.
How a federal criminal defense lawyer can help if you are under federal investigation
As experienced federal criminal defense attorneys, our ultimate goal is to obtain the best possible results for you. In the best of all worlds, that means either having your case dismissed or getting a “not guilty” verdict. Federal investigations and federal cases are generally more complex than those at a local or state level.
Federal government investigative agencies have vast resources that they employ to build a case against you. As such, you need the legal guidance, support, and smart, skilled representation that an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer offers. To build an effective, successful defense, we:
- Determine whether you are the target (where the feds believe they have substantial evidence that you have committed a crime), the subject (where there is suspicion that you have committed a crime), or a witness (the government believes you have information important to their investigation)
- Determine whether we (you and your attorney) should meet with federal investigators: A “proffer session” is one in which you discuss any information you may have about an alleged crime in exchange for “assurance” that whatever you say won’t be used against you down the road. We may be able to see what cards the prosecution is going to play, but like many card games, it’s a gamble.
- Find out exactly what evidence—or lack thereof—the feds have, and how much of it is potentially dangerous, what is circumstantial, and what we can fight to exclude.
- Discuss whether it is in your best interest to cooperate: There may be occasions when it is in your best interest to do so. As your attorney, our goal is to protect your rights and get you the best possible outcome.
Why you should talk to a skilled federal criminal defense attorney if you even think you are under investigation
The feds are patient in building a case against you. In some cases, they’ve been working on it for years. We know how they think and how to mount the best possible defense against federal crime charges. Call us at (305) 403-7323 or contact us online to start protecting your rights now.