The federal criminal justice system is vast, complex, and often unfair. This is especially true of how federal agents and federal prosecutors investigate individuals for potential violations of federal crimes, using the many tools and resources the federal government has at its disposal. The federal investigation process can make you feel overwhelmed and alone.
With the Rossen Law Firm, you are NEVER alone. We’re here to guide you through every step, standing in your corner and advocating tirelessly for your rights. With a deep understanding of federal criminal law and extensive experience representing clients at all stages of the federal process, our attorneys specialize in navigating the intricate federal criminal investigations process.
UNDERSTANDING FEDERAL CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
These investigations can involve a range of criminal offenses, from drug trafficking and fraud to tax evasion and securities violations. A federal criminal investigation typically begins long before charges are formally filed. In many cases, individuals may not even know they are under investigation until they are contacted by federal agents or receive a target letter. This makes it critically important to secure legal counsel as early as possible if you suspect you may be under federal scrutiny.
Federal criminal investigations are conducted by various federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Human Health Services – Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Federal criminal investigations often start as civil investigations, such as a Medicare investigator investigating a laboratory for possible Medicare regulatory violations.
In a criminal investigation, a federal prosecutor may or may not be directing the investigation or generally involved in the decision-making process, depending on the investigation stage. Even when assigned to a particular investigation, the prosecutor’s role in a federal investigation varies depending on the case and the investigatory agency. The federal prosecutor is known as an Assistant United States Attorney. The authority, discretionary power, and responsibilities of the United States Attorney with relation to criminal matters encompass without limitation by enumeration the following:
- Investigating suspected or alleged offenses against the United States
- Causing investigations to be conducted by the appropriate federal law enforcement agencies,
- Declining prosecution
- Authorizing prosecution
- Determining the manner of prosecuting and deciding trial-related questions;
- Recommending whether to appeal or not to appeal from an adverse ruling or decision
- Dismissing prosecutions
- Handling civil matters related to that which are under the supervision of the Criminal Division.
The United States Attorney, as the chief federal law enforcement officer in his district, is authorized to request the appropriate federal investigative agency to investigate alleged or suspected violations of federal law. The federal investigators operate under the hierarchical supervision of their bureau or agency and consequently are not ordinarily subject to direct supervision by the United States Attorney. However, the two bodies of federal law enforcement power operate hand-in-hand.
Federal law enforcement agents have a large toolbox of investigative techniques at their disposal. These are just some examples:
- Wiretapping phones
- Performing physical surveillance over weeks or months
- Monitoring the suspect’s online activity
- Recording consensually monitored conversations (i.e., having someone wear a “wire” or record phone calls for the agents)
- Reviewing a suspect’s financial documents, such as bank records or tax returns
- Issuing grand jury subpoenas for testimony and documents
- Executing search warrants and analyzing the materials obtained, such as computers and smartphones
- conducting witness interviews and proffer sessions.
The federal prosecutor uses the results of the investigation in bringing charges against an individual or declining to do so. The United States Attorney is authorized to initiate prosecution by filing a complaint, requesting an indictment from the grand jury, and when permitted by law, by filing information in any case which, in his or her judgment, warrants such action
The attorneys at the Rossen Law Firm are incredibly familiar with how the prosecutors and agents interact, and hiring an attorney who understands the nuances of this relationship is crucial, especially during the investigation stage.
WITNESS vs. SUBJECT vs. TARGET
The ultimate goal of the federal investigation stage is to avoid criminal charges. Understanding the complex differences in how federal investigators label the individuals they are investigating is essential to a successful result. The three primary categories of individuals who are sought by federal investigations are (1) Witnesses, (2) Subjects, and (3) Targets. The Rossen Law Firm is highly experienced in representing all three groups, as all three require legal representation.
Determining where our client falls on the Witness-Subject-Target spectrum is a vital first step in the federal investigation process. Understanding how the federal government views our client dictates the nature of interactions between the criminal defense attorney and agents or prosecutors during the investigation stage. The “classification” directly relates to our client’s potential criminal exposure and the likelihood and timetable of an arrest and/or formal criminal charges.
At one end of the spectrum is a “witness.” A witness may have information that the government considers critical to its investigation. Typically, prosecutors do not believe a witness has committed any crime. Because the risk of criminal liability is low, a witness may often choose to cooperate with investigators and be willing to testify before the grand jury or sit for an interview with agents. Even a witness requires experienced legal representation to make this crucial decision.
- Being a “witness” does not necessarily mean that you observed or saw a crime happen. You may have information that law enforcement believes might be relevant in a criminal investigation to help prove either the guilt or the innocence of another individual or business.
- Even if you are a witness, it does not mean you should ever speak to law enforcement without an attorney. You may still be subject to “obstruction of justice” or “lying to a federal agent”
At the witness’s opposite end of the spectrum is someone classified as a “TARGET.” When a prosecutor deems someone a target, the government believes there’s substantial evidence that the person has committed a crime. In the middle of the spectrum is a “subject.” To a federal prosecutor, a subject is a person whose conduct is within the scope of a grand jury’s investigation. That typically means that the government considers the subject’s behavior suspicious, and there is some risk that the subject has engaged in illegal activity. Targets of a federal criminal investigation may receive a “Target Letter.”
What is a “Target Letter,” and why is it essential to contact the Rossen Law Firm if you receive a Target Letter?
In federal criminal investigations, few documents are as critical and potentially unnerving as a “target letter.” This letter, typically sent by a federal prosecutor or agency, clearly indicates that you are under investigation for a federal crime. A target letter is a formal written notification that informs an individual that they are the “target” of a federal criminal investigation. In this context, being a “target” means that the prosecutor or federal agency believes they have substantial evidence linking you to a crime.
The letter usually outlines the nature of the crime you’re suspected of committing, your rights in the situation, and an invitation to appear before a federal grand jury to provide testimony. Receiving a target letter is a serious matter and strongly suggests that the federal government is close to or has already decided to prosecute.
Receiving a target letter can be a distressing experience, but it is crucial to recognize it and attempt to navigate the situation with the help of an experienced attorney. Here’s why hiring a seasoned federal criminal defense attorney is critical:
- Interpreting the Letter: A target letter is a complex legal document that may be challenging for non-lawyers to understand fully. An attorney can help decipher the letter’s implications and the severity of the charges and guide you through the federal justice system.
- Safeguarding Your Rights: You have certain constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination and the right to legal counsel. A lawyer can ensure these rights are protected and explain when and how to exercise them.
- Legal Strategy and Guidance: An attorney can develop an effective legal strategy based on the specifics of your case. This could include preparing you for a grand jury testimony, challenging the investigation’s legality, or negotiating with federal prosecutors.
- Managing Communication: Any statements you make can be used against you in a court of law. Having an attorney manage all communications with law enforcement and federal prosecutors can prevent unintended self-incrimination.
- Building a Defense: If you are ultimately indicted, your attorney will have been involved in the case and can begin building a robust defense immediately. Early involvement can lead to more favorable outcomes, such as plea deals or case dismissals.
In short, receiving a target letter clearly signals that you’re in the crosshairs of a federal investigation, and a federal criminal defense attorney can be your best shield. They can provide the legal expertise, strategic advice, and rigorous representation you need to face what could be one of the most challenging times in your life. Don’t wait – if you’ve received a target letter, seeking legal help should be your priority.
Prosecutors are not required by any law to tell individuals where they fit within the investigation, but DOJ policy does require that a prosecutor inform a subject or a target of their rights if called to testify before the grand jury. If an individual is a target of the grand jury investigation, prosecutors may inform that person of her status through a “target letter” and give that person the opportunity to testify before the grand jury before seeking an indictment.
Zealous advocacy by defense attorneys can change the Government’s opinion of where our client falls on this spectrum. Retaining an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as early as possible is vital, as the primary goal of the investigative stage is often to get in contact with the Government early enough before the Government has classified our clients as a target, if possible, or before a Grand Jury has been convened.
THE GRAND JURY
The grand jury system is a key aspect of the federal criminal justice process in the United States. If you find yourself at the center of a federal grand jury investigation, understanding the proceedings and a federal criminal defense attorney’s critical role can make a significant difference in your case.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution mandates the use of grand juries for federal felony charges. A federal grand jury consists of 16 to 23 citizens who serve for a term of approximately 18 months. The grand jury’s purpose is to hear evidence presented by the prosecution and decide whether there is “probable cause” to believe a crime has been committed.
Unlike a trial jury, the grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence. Instead, if the grand jury believes the evidence is sufficient, they will return an indictment, a formal accusation initiating a criminal case. The United States Attorney may also use the grand jury to investigate alleged or suspected violations of federal law.
The federal grand jury process is opaque and one-sided. The proceedings are conducted in secret, and only the prosecutors, the grand jurors, and the court reporter are usually present. Unlike in a trial setting, the rules of evidence are less strict, which allows the prosecution to present hearsay evidence or evidence that may be inadmissible at trial.
Moreover, the subject of the investigation does not have a right to present their evidence or witnesses, and they are not entitled to a defense attorney in the grand jury room. However, if called to testify, the individual can consult with their attorney outside the grand jury room. This imbalance underscores why having a federal criminal defense attorney by your side during this process is critical.
The grand jury is an independent body whose functions include not only the investigation of crime and the initiation of criminal prosecution but also the protection of the citizenry from unfounded criminal charges. The federal prosecutor is responsible for advising the grand jury on the law and presenting evidence for its consideration. In discharging these responsibilities, the prosecutor must be scrupulously fair to all witnesses and must do nothing to inflame or otherwise improperly influence the grand jurors.
Grand Jury Subpoenas
It is crucial for your defense attorney, although not permitted to take part in the grand jury process, to put you in the best position leading up to a grand jury and after the grand jury, in the investigation phase of a federal case to obtain the most favorable outcome. This often includes assisting our client in complying with a grand jury subpoena.
A federal grand jury subpoena is a legally binding order issued by a grand jury in a federal criminal investigation. This document compels an individual or entity to testify as a witness about a particular issue (subpoena ad testificandum) or produce specific documents or physical evidence (subpoena duces tecum). It’s a critical tool in a grand jury’s inquiry to determine probable cause to indict a person for a federal crime.
If you or your business has received a federal grand jury subpoena, it’s of utmost importance to seek legal representation from an experienced federal defense attorney immediately.
Receiving a federal grand jury subpoena can be an overwhelming experience. It might indicate that you are a witness, a subject, or even the target of a federal criminal investigation. Regardless of your status in the investigation, here’s why it’s crucial to engage a federal criminal defense attorney from the Rossen Law Firm:
- Expertise in Federal Criminal Law: Federal criminal law is intricate and often challenging to navigate without legal training. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney knows and understands the law, the federal court system, and the grand jury process, which can help you maneuver this complicated situation.
- Protect Your Rights: Constitutional rights need protection during a federal investigation. For instance, you have the right against self-incrimination, a right to counsel, and a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. An attorney can ensure these rights are upheld and guide you on when and how to invoke these rights.
- Assess the Subpoena: Federal grand jury subpoenas can be extensive and burdensome. A skilled attorney can evaluate the subpoena’s scope, ensuring it’s not overly broad or unreasonable, and negotiate with federal prosecutors to limit the scope of information required.
- Legal Strategy: An attorney can help devise a legal strategy tailored to your circumstances. They can counsel you on responding to the subpoena, whether to testify or provide the requested documents, and how to handle any potential pitfalls.
- Preemptive Defense Building: If you are a potential target or subject of the investigation, your lawyer can begin crafting a robust defense strategy immediately, laying the groundwork for any subsequent legal proceedings.
- Confidentiality: Conversations with your attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege. This confidentiality lets you freely discuss the situation with your lawyer, enabling them to provide the most effective representation.
Handling a federal grand jury subpoena is not to be taken lightly or tackled without legal counsel. In these situations, the stakes are high, and the potential consequences are severe. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney is an indispensable ally, providing the legal expertise, strategic advice, and advocacy necessary to protect your rights and interests during a federal criminal investigation. If you receive a grand jury subpoena, seek legal help from a federal defense law firm like Rossen Law Firm immediately.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ROSSEN LAW FIRM DURING A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION
If you or a loved one believe or are told that you are the suspect or target of a federal investigation, or if you believe you are just a witness to a federal crime, hiring an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as early as possible can significantly impact the outcome of your case. Here’s why:
- Legal Guidance: Federal criminal law is complex, and the investigation and grand jury process is no exception. A skilled attorney can help you understand the process, your rights, and potential outcomes.
- Evidence Analysis: An attorney can review the evidence in possession of the government and assess its strength.
- Strategic Planning: A defense lawyer can help you strategize your next steps. For example, they may advise you to invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than speaking to federal investigators or testifying before the grand jury.
- Negotiating with Prosecutors: In some cases, an experienced attorney can negotiate with federal prosecutors to resolve before an indictment is returned, potentially leading to reduced charges or even a dismissal.
- Preparing for What Comes Next: If the federal investigation results in criminal charges, most commonly in the form of a grand jury returning an indictment, you must be prepared to defend yourself at trial. An attorney can begin developing a robust defense strategy from the outset.
In conclusion, navigating a federal grand jury investigation can be intimidating, but you don’t have to face it alone. A federal criminal defense attorney is an indispensable ally, providing the legal expertise, strategic advice, and advocacy you need during this challenging time. Don’t wait until an indictment is filed; contact the Rossen Law Firm when you learn you are under investigation.