Federal Investigations: Know When to Hire an Attorney, It’s Not Just on TV

Know when to hire an attorney who knows federal laws

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words Federal Investigation? Do you think “hire an attorney” or do you think about your favorite crime drama on television?

Federal Investigation Interview, Know When to Hire an Attorney - Columbus, Ohio Federal Defense Attorney Joe EdwardsIt is important to understand that federal agencies conduct criminal investigations throughout the country, not just in the Nation’s Capital, and federal charges do happen real life, not just on TV. The scope of federal investigations can include and extend far beyond drug conspiracies, fraud, or cybercrime and racketeering (RICO). Witnesses can face serious federal felonies for lying during an interview or attempting to destroy evidence. Federal agencies do prosecute for “obstruction of justice.”

Federal investigations can last months and even years before all the evidence is obtained and prosecutors decide who should be charged with a crime. As noted in a previous blog, a federal agent’s perception of who is a target versus a witness can change, not only based upon information uncovered during the investigation, but also upon the actions taken by those under investigation.

Talking to Federal Investigators- Choose the Attorney You Hire Wisely

Should a person talk with federal investigators? What documents should be turned over pursuant to a subpoena for business records? How will disclosure of information about the crime or other crimes affect their status? Perhaps the most important question- should a person consider “cutting a deal” with the feds when providing information about others could result in a lesser sentence or even possible immunity from prosecution?

If involved in a federal investigation, the way a person responds to these questions is crucial. In most instances, individuals will hire attorneys and rely on their experience to determine how to navigate the many twists and turns that naturally develop during an investigation. Bad advice from a lawyer can potentially prevent a person from obtaining a good result or place someone in a worse position. The decisions made upon the advice of counsel have long term consequences, many of which are irreversible. If an attorney gives a person bad advice then he/she cannot, at a later date, change the decision.

For example, if a person refuses to cooperate with federal prosecutors and cut a deal, then this could well be a missed opportunity and could result in more charges filed. Federal prosecutors have no duty to hold a plea deal open indefinitely.

On the other hand, a decision to cooperate too hastily could reduce a person’s bargaining position, In addition, an early meeting with federal agents (a proffer session) could be a “perjury trap” if the person and counsel have not analyzed all the relevant evidence and reviewed answers to possible questions. Well intentioned people can make what appear to be false statements during investigations when not thoroughly prepared by experienced counsel.

When Does a Person’s Right to Counsel Begin?

A recent case decided by the Sixth Circuit (a federal appellate court in Cincinnati) determined when a person’s right to counsel begins.  In US vs. Turner, the Court examined the issue of whether a person’s right to counsel exists prior to a criminal charge, such as during the often lengthy investigation phase. The Turner court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches only “at or after the initiation of judicial criminal proceedings- whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment”. By so ruling, the Sixth Circuit said there was no constitutional right to counsel prior to formal charges, and, specifically, during the investigative phase.

In conclusion, if you are under federal investigation, or a potential witness for one, then you should hire experienced defense counsel immediately and prior to meeting with any agents on the case. Decisions made early will often lock you into a position that can have positive or devastating consequences. Contact attorney Joe Edwards at (614)309-0243, who has over 25 years experience representing individuals at the state and federal level.

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