People frequently make the mistake of assuming that they do not need a criminal defense attorney unless, and until, they have actually been charged with a criminal offense. Nothing could be farther from the truth – particularly if you are under investigation for a federal offense. Although both the offenses and the prosecution of those offenses are fundamentally similar at both the state and federal level, the investigation stage of a crime is markedly different at the federal level. An experienced attorney retained during the investigation stage of a federal offense will offer you sound legal advice that may help you from making critical mistakes that increase the likelihood that you will be charged, preserve evidence for your defense at any future trial, negotiate on your behalf with federal prosecutors to minimize the charges brought against you and/or arrange for your surrender to avoid an embarrassing arrest. It is, indeed, money well spent.
At the federal level there are several law enforcement agencies that investigate crimes, including, but not limited to:
- F.B.I. – the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- C. I. A. – the Central Intelligence Agency
- D.E.A. – the Drug Enforcement Administration
- A.T.F. – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- I.C.E. – Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- I.R.S. – the Internal Revenue Service
- S.E.C. – the Securities and Exchange Commission
- D.H.S. – the Department of Homeland Security
Federal law enforcement agencies rarely investigate minor, street level crimes. Instead, they usually investigate large, multi-jurisdictional crimes that may involve several suspects. A federal investigation often lasts months. It may be years before charges are actually brought against anyone involved.
Unlike state investigators, federal investigators frequently inform suspects that they are under investigation. You may receive a notice informing you that you are the subject of an “inquiry” or investigation by a federal agency. If you do receive one of these notices, immediately retain an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. Often, the letter notifies you that you are required to turn over documents or present yourself for questioning at a specific date and time. Do not turn over anything or appear for questioning without consulting with an attorney first. Once you have turned over documents you can’t “undue” the sharing of information. Likewise, once you have answered questions you can’t “take back” your answers. You may feel that you have nothing to hide; however, something you produce or say could be misconstrued or could place you in the middle of a much larger conspiracy of which you know nothing.
Whether you have been officially notified or have been unofficially contacted regarding a federal investigation, whether within Massachusetts or another jurisdiction, retaining an experienced attorney may save you from criminal prosecution or a federal prison.