A federal investigation can add an inordinate amount of stress to a person’s life. The possibility of a criminal prosecution and jail time is enough to add irreparable damage to a person’s mental and physical well-being. It is critical that you are represented by an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney where you know that a criminal investigation is underway in order to try and secure the most favorable outcome.
What to Expect
A Grand Jury must return an indictment prior to an individual being forced to defend against criminal charges. The Grand Jury consists of between 16 and 23 citizens from the federal district having jurisdiction over the case. The Prosecutors present their case to the Grand Jury and if 12 Grand Jurors find probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, the Grand Jury returns an indictment.
The indictment is the document that contains the charges against the individual[s] in question. Once the indictment has been returned, it is usually filed in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court, and a warrant is typically issued for the arrest of the individual[s] named in the indictment. Lawyers specializing in white-collar criminal defense will typically refer to the period where prosecutors are investigating and gathering evidence to present to the Grand Jury as the “target / pre-indictment phase.”
White Collar Crimes vs. Non-White Collar Crimes
In non-white collar crimes, the defendant normally does not become aware that an investigation is underway. The time of the arrest is usually the first time that these defendants find out that any investigation had been going on.
In white collar crimes, the situation is typically different. Most white collar defendants find out that an investigation is ongoing prior to an indictment being returned by the Grand Jury. Often times, Federal prosecutors will send out a “target letter.” This target letter, from the United States Attorney’s office, simply advises the individual that he or she is the target of a federal investigation. It will usually advise as to the nature of the federal charges being investigated, i.e., bank fraud, money laundering, etc.
Another way of discovering an ongoing investigation would be when Federal agents arrive to a potential defendant’s home or business to speak with him directly. In such a situation, the Federal agent may advise you that you are the target of a criminal investigation. On the other hand, they may advise you that you are not a target, but that they wish to speak to you.
You may also hear that your friends, neighbors, employees, partners, etc., have been contacted by federal agents and have been advised that the agents are investigating your activities.
Should you hear that federal agents are investigating your activities, it is important to remember that the pre-indictment phase can be the most important part of the whole federal process. If you suspect that you or your activities are under investigation, hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately. We feel that it is always easier for a lawyer to convince a prosecutor to decline to prosecute a case prior to indictment than it is to convince him or her to dismiss a case once it has been indicted. At the pre-indictment phase, before battle lines have been firmly drawn, there is a greater likelihood that your lawyer will be able to explain away misunderstandings and keep you from being indicted. If your case is the type that is typically best handled with a plea bargain, white collar criminal attorneys are generally able to work out more favorable deals prior to indictment than after indictment. Again, if you suspect that you are under investigation, hire competent counsel immediately.