Are You the Target of a Criminal Investigation? Here’s What To Do
Imagine this. You come home from a long day at work, kick off your shoes, and absentmindedly sort through the mail sprawled on the kitchen table. Mixed up with the phone bill and a supermarket ad is a white envelope with the return address, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Unfolding the document inside, you read something that takes your breath away: You are advised that you are a target of the Grand Jury’s investigation. Anything you do or say may be used against you in a subsequent legal proceeding.
Stop. Take a breath. Put the envelope down. Do not contact the special agent who sent this letter. Do not write or call them. You may think immediate cooperation will imply innocence, or maybe persuade the authorities you are a good citizen trying to help. However, initiating any type of interaction without proper representation can be extremely detrimental.
Remember, the DOJ wants to hear from you. Why? Because whatever you say can be used against you, and if you contact the government without legal representation, it will be to their advantage. There’s a good reason people hire lawyers immediately. Qualified defense attorneys know how to react to the DOJ without compromising their clients. Otherwise, without even realizing it, you may be significantly hurting your future case.
To be sure, not all federal agents or authorities contact their targets via the postal service. Some will show up to your home at 6:00 a.m., or your place of business, usually in pairs—yes, like in the movies. You potentially forfeit your right to avoid self-incrimination when you write a letter or have a personal conversation with an agent. This is why you need to know how to react: do not speak unless you have representation. I repeat: do not engage. It will do you no good to attempt to resolve this matter on your own.
In the moment, this advice may seem difficult to follow. It’s not an easy thing to avoid interacting with agents who suddenly descend on you. Also, they are trained to interact with you in a way most likely to put you at ease. This makes it easier for them to elicit incriminating statements; they tend to have a knack for getting what they want, whether it be talking tough or talking sweetly. “We’re not accusing you of a crime,” they may say. “We just want to hear your side of the story.” No matter how genuine and well-intentioned they seem, do not answer their questions. By giving them any information, you’re supplying them with evidence that can and will be used against you. After all, what if they have the wrong person? What if you had no knowledge a crime was being committed? Without knowing the extent of their investigation, you can’t know your role in it. You won’t know what or what not to say. This is why you must immediatelyseek proper criminal defense representation.
An expert attorney may prevent you from ever being charged with a crime. Your attorney should also be adept at reducing charges and sentences. When you’re in trouble, you need an advocate—someone who specializes in your rights and speaks the language of the law.
The bottom line: no matter your involvement, no matter your innocence or guilt, you need to disengage. Stop talking. Do not respond to them. Instead, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who will guide you through each step of the process to achieve the best possible outcome.