Federal agents knock at your door, asking to come inside and casually talk.
It could be that they’re here for you, or it could be that you’re not even under investigation. They’re just here to talk about someone else. In either case, what should you do when federal investigators come to your door and ask to talk?
Call an attorney, quickly.
18 U.S.C. Section 1001 – Lying to Federal Agents
It is a crime to lie to federal agents at any time. It doesn’t matter if you have been sworn in under oath, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been read your Miranda rights. It doesn’t matter if your lie actually had a detrimental effect on the investigation. It is simply a crime if you knowingly and willfully mislead a federal investigator.
What does this mean for you?
You could be putting yourself in legal jeopardy by talking with federal investigators without an attorney present. Federal investigators don’t become federal investigators on accident – they’re skilled at what they do – and even a conversation that starts casually can quickly become stressful.
The best way to handle this is to contact an attorney before the interview begins.
How Stressful Situations Can Become Criminal
Let’s use a hypothetical: You worked for years at a company that was engaged in fraud. Even though you were unhappy with the situation, you knew it would be difficult to find a new job and decided to stay put. You sometimes assisted the CEO with some fraudulent activity when asked, mostly trying to stay out of trouble.
After some time, you leave and you think the stress of the company is over.
Years later, federal investigators knock at your door and ask if they can ask you some questions. The agent seems to not know much about the situation, and he asks a few questions that might hint to your involvement in the company’s fraud. Caught off-guard by the sudden visit and wanting to just stay out of trouble, you say you don’t remember doing any of the things he mentions.
Here’s the thing: At this point, the agent likely already has evidence of your involvement in the fraud, and he now knows you lied to him. You can now be charged under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001.
It is so hard to talk your way out of these situations, even if the interview isn’t concerning you.
Let’s say you weren’t even involved in any of the fraud at the company. A federal investigator knocks years after you leave and begins asking questions about the details of the case. He’s had months – maybe even years – to pore over evidence. This might be something you haven’t even thought about in years. What happens if you state a simple error of fact?
It’s entirely possible that this could make you vulnerable to 18 U.S.C. 1001.
What Should You Do? How to Say ‘No’ to Federal Investigators
It can be terrifying to answer your door to see federal investigators. Agreeing to speak with them in this mental state already gives the investigators the upper hand, even without saying anything.
Next, what happens if you misstate a fact or commit an error of omission? You could wind up in the crosshairs for misleading federal investigators. Your life is too valuable and it is too risky to handle federal investigators on your own.
The thing to do here is to politely and firmly inform the investigators that you hired an attorney, and that he or she will be in contact.
At this point, you might assume that a federal investigator would see this as a red flag. In fact, they’ll almost certainly press you on this and make it seem like they did. “Why do you need an attorney?” “What do you have to hide?”
Again, you can politely and firmly re-state that you’ll be delighted to talk once you’ve spoken with counsel. It is the investigators’ right to investigate, and it is your right to speak to a lawyer before talking to an investigator. This will give you a valuable opportunity to refresh yourself on what happened and to plan a strategy for dealing with the investigators.
Do not allow the federal investigators to bully you into saying anything of substance related to the case or giving a phony reason for not talking that day.
How to Deal With a Grand Jury Subpoena
Simply stating that you will first talk with an attorney might force the investigator to rethink whether your interview is really worth it, and he might decline to speak with you from that point.
What happens if the investigator threatens to get a grand jury subpoena? You can thank the federal agent for his time and request that he serve the subpoena to your attorney (this might save you some embarrassment if you would otherwise have gotten served at work).
What happens if the investigator serves you with a subpoena on the spot? Thank him for his time again, and speak with your attorney before giving testimony to the grand jury.
Speak With a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
In most circumstances, it just doesn’t make sense to talk to a federal investigator without obtaining counsel from an attorney beforehand.
At best, if you are only tangential to an investigation and there is no likelihood of charges being brought against you, it’s possible to survive the interview without any adverse effects. However, you could wind up fudging a detail and landing in hot water. At worst, you could end up self-incriminating and becoming a subject in the investigation.
Do not allow federal investigators to make you think that hiring attorney is an admission of guilt. It’s an admission that you are serious about protecting yourself.
Federal criminal law is a complex, difficult-to-navigate web, and the counsel of an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney can help save you a lot of trouble. If you need to speak with a federal criminal defense attorney, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We take cases nationwide and are prepared to represent you.