If you are under federal investigation, you may not be placed under arrest immediately. The FBI, DEA, ATF, or other federal department investigating you will inform you that you are under investigation. Although formal charges have not been pressed, you should still be aware that you face severe consequences. That is why you should follow these five steps if you are under federal investigation.
In many ways, federal investigations are even more complex than investigations by local or state police agencies. However, one aspect they both share is that your chances of surviving unscathed are vastly improved if your first move is hiring an attorney with experience in federal criminal investigations. An attorney will be able to guide you through each stage of the investigation, walk you through the legal traps that the government will put in your path, and will be able to defend you in court if the case goes to trial.
The sooner you put an attorney on your case, the better prepared he or she can be in formulating your defense.
Keep in mind that you are still protected by your rights under the Constitution. If agents come to your home or your office without a search or arrest warrant, you can refuse to let them enter and you can refuse to speak to them. In fact, a law enforcement official can only obtain your name and address if he or she has a reasonable suspicion to believe that you have committed or are about to commit a crime.
If law enforcement officials have a warrant, politely comply with the warrant and follow the agents' instructions, but you should refuse to answer any questions outside the presence of your attorney.
Lying to a federal agent is a crime under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001. Under that law, you do not have to be under oath when you lie to an agent to be prosecuted for the crime. Each offense can be punished by up to five years in prison. Additionally, there are sentence enhancements of up to eight years for lying during investigations of certain crimes, such as terrorism or sex trafficking of children.
When the FBI, SEC, or any other federal law enforcement agency wants to interview someone, they always send two agents. Why do they work in pairs? Each agent serves as a witness to whatever you say during the interview. One of them will likely question you, and the other will write down what you say. Though the Department of Justice has recently implemented policy changes to record interviews with subjects of investigation, the policy is full of exceptions that can allow for an interview not to be recorded.
If you decide to talk, more often than not you will find that what you said becomes a matter of your word against that of two federal agents.
It is safe to assume that if the federal government has taken an interest in investigating you, anyone you talk to about your case stands a good chance of being interviewed by a federal agent. Worse yet, the people you trust with your information could end up subpoenaed to testify against you. Always remember that the federal government has more time, money, and patience than you do. They can find your friends, family and colleagues, and they can talk to them.
That is why you should avoid talking to other people (aside from your attorney) about the investigation. If you talk to others, the federal government can subpoena them to appear as witnesses before a grand jury, where they will be forced to testify under oath. What's more, defense lawyers are not permitted at grand jury proceedings, so your defense attorney cannot protect you from what the witnesses say. If you talk to a witness about complying with a subpoena to testify, you could potentially be charged with obstructing justice by tampering with a witness.
Witness tampering is a serious crime, and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison under 18 U.S.C. Section 1512.
Obstruction of justice comes not only in the form of tampering with witnesses, but also in the form of destroying evidence. For that reason, you should not destroy, modify, or tamper with documents, whether they are on paper or stored as an electronic file. Even deleting a small portion of an electronic document can get you into trouble.
Under 18 U.S.C. Section 1519, a person who intentionally impedes a federal investigation by any agency of the United States by knowingly altering or destroying documents, records, or other evidence can be imprisoned up to 20 years.