The Contours of a Federal Investigation

Whether you’re being investigated for a state misdemeanor or a potential federal felony, the process is likely to invoke intense stress for you and your family. The process for a federal criminal investigation is somewhat different than one for a state crime; notably, federal investigations involve grand juries and indictments. We explain more below. 

Witness, Subject, and Target

The three main players involved in a federal investigation are witnesses, subjects, and targets. Witnesses are not necessarily those who saw a crime occur. A witness is simply someone whom federal investigators believe has information or observations relevant to the investigation. This doesn’t mean that witnesses cannot get into legal trouble—lying to federal investigators and obstructing justice are serious charges. 

A target is the most serious of these three designations. Federal agents classify someone as a target when they believe that individual’s behavior is substantially linked to a crime that occurred. In between targets and witnesses are subjects. Most often, investigators operate under the assumption that a subject’s behavior is germane to the alleged crime(s). Subjects of federal investigations often become targets at a later date. For that and other reasons, an attorney is crucial for subjects of federal investigations. 

Witnesses and subjects are often issued subpoenas to either testify before a grand jury or produce documents. Search warrants are also tools for federal investigators to gather evidence.

Federal Grand Juries

Federal prosecutors must get an indictment from a grand jury (usually consisting of 16-23 members) if they are looking to charge someone with a felony. The grand jury is empaneled in secret and votes in secret. After hearing information from a federal prosecutor (usually an assistant U.S. attorney) and witnesses, at least 12 members of the grand jury must vote to indict in order to move forward. In some cases, targets of a federal investigation may be arrested before a grand jury is even formed.

What Should You Do?

At some basic level, there is a human impulse to be friendly and cooperative with other people. This instinct isn’t fundamentally altered when you’re speaking with federal agents. It takes a certain amount of resolve to not speak to law enforcement when they’re asking you questions and you know you’re not guilty of anything. 

Even people who are guilty of federal crimes falsely believe they will talk their way out of a charge. No matter how charismatic someone is, there is no getting out of a grand jury indictment. Your best friend during a federal criminal investigation is your attorney. The best time to call an attorney is as soon as you think you might be involved in a federal investigation, no matter if you believe you’re a witness, subject, or target. If you’re arrested on federal charges, let us be your first phone call. Our number is (305) 374-5544.

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Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL

As experienced trial lawyers with a passion for justice, our firm provides clients with compelling advocacy, attorney availability, and creative solutions to your tax or criminal law matters.

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