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26 Nov 23

Responding to a Federal Grand Jury Subpoena

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 02:11 pm

Getting a federal grand jury subpoena can be intimidating. Let’s break down what it means and how to respond.

What is a federal grand jury subpoena?

A federal grand jury subpoena means the government wants information from you for an investigation. It’s a formal request to provide documents, testify, or both.

Grand juries decide whether to bring criminal charges. They investigate suspected crimes and decide if there’s enough evidence to prosecute someone. A federal grand jury subpoena means you may have information related to a federal criminal investigation.

Do I have to comply?

Yes, you must comply with a valid federal grand jury subpoena. If you don’t, you could face civil or criminal contempt charges. That means fines or even jail time.

You must comply unless you have a legal basis not to. Reasons to challenge a subpoena are called defenses. We’ll cover some common defenses later.

What if I can’t comply by the deadline?

First, don’t ignore it. Contact the prosecutor’s office that issued the subpoena right away. Explain why you can’t comply on time and ask for an extension.

They may give you more time if you show a good reason. But they don’t have to. Prosecutors tend to have tight timelines for their investigations.

If they won’t extend the deadline, you need to take legal action to get more time. This is called a motion to quash.

Do I need a lawyer?

Yes, you should hire a lawyer experienced with federal grand jury subpoenas. Here’s why:

  • – The law around grand jury subpoenas is complex. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can help protect your rights.
  • – Testifying before a grand jury can be intimidating. Your testimony could implicate you or someone else in a crime – even accidentally. A lawyer can guide you on answering questions.
  • – Turning over documents could reveal sensitive or private information unrelated to the investigation. A lawyer can help limit disclosure.
  • – If you plan to fight the subpoena, a lawyer is essential to file motions and represent you in court.

Look for a lawyer with specific experience handling federal grand jury subpoenas.

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How much will a lawyer cost?

Costs vary a lot based on your location and the lawyer’s experience. Expect to pay $200-$500 per hour.

For a simple subpoena, a lawyer may charge a flat fee like $2,000-$5,000. Complex cases with lots of documents or testimony could cost $10,000 or more.

Ask up front about the lawyer’s fees and what’s included. Get fee estimates in writing.

What information will I have to provide?

The subpoena spells out what information you must provide. This often includes:

  • Documents – This may include records, files, correspondence, notes, data, or anything else requested. They’ll specify which documents they want and for what time periods.
  • Testimony – This means answering questions under oath before the grand jury. Often you have to testify about the documents you provided.
  • Physical evidence – In some cases, they may want actual physical objects. This is less common.

The subpoena should list specific items to bring or topics to testify about. If it’s vague, your lawyer can seek clarification from the prosecutor.

When do I have to respond?

The subpoena will state a date and time to appear and/or produce documents. This deadline is firm. As mentioned earlier, ask for an extension immediately if you need more time.

With documents, they often set a deadline a few weeks out. For testimony, they may ask you to appear quickly – even in a few days.

You can buy time by requesting a “return date” – the date to produce documents or testify. But the prosecutor doesn’t have to grant your request.

Where will I appear?

For testimony, the subpoena will tell you when and where to appear. Most likely, this will be at the federal courthouse before the grand jury.

Your lawyer will go with you and wait outside the grand jury room. If you’re just producing documents, the subpoena will specify where to deliver them.

What are my options for responding?

You have three main options after getting a federal grand jury subpoena:

  1. Comply – Cooperate fully by providing all requested documents and testimony. This is the easiest option but gives you the least control.
  2. File motions to limit or quash – Ask the court to limit or quash (cancel) the subpoena. This allows you to raise defenses without refusing to comply.
  3. Refuse to comply – You can refuse, but the prosecutor will likely ask the court to hold you in contempt. This can lead to fines and jail time.

Your lawyer will explain these options and help craft the best response strategy based on your situation.

What are some reasons to fight a subpoena?

There are many potential defenses for challenging a federal grand jury subpoena. Common reasons include:

  • Privileged information – Subpoenas can’t compel privileged information like attorney-client communications or doctor-patient records.
  • Overly broad – If the subpoena is too broad or burdensome, you can argue it should be narrowed.
  • Lack of relevance – The prosecutor has to show the information is reasonably relevant to their investigation.
  • Improper purpose – You may argue the subpoena has an improper purpose like harassment.
  • Right against self-incrimination – The Fifth Amendment protects your right not to provide incriminating testimony.
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An experienced lawyer can evaluate defenses and file a motion to quash or limit the subpoena.

What happens if I testify?

If you end up testifying, your lawyer will prep you to ensure you understand your rights and obligations.

In the grand jury room, the prosecutor will ask you questions under oath. A court reporter will transcribe questions and answers. Your lawyer can’t come in while you testify but will be nearby.

Plead the Fifth if you’re asked about anything that could implicate you in a crime. Don’t try to protect others by testifying falsely. That itself may be a crime.

After testifying, report back to your lawyer who will debrief you. Grand jury proceedings are secret, so don’t discuss your testimony with anyone else.

Can I talk about the subpoena or investigation?

No. Grand jury proceedings are confidential. It’s illegal to reveal you received a subpoena or disclose anything about the grand jury’s investigation.

This ban on disclosure remains even after the investigation ends. So don’t talk about it with anyone – even your spouse or coworkers.

That said, you can discuss the subpoena with your lawyer. That communication is privileged.

Violating grand jury secrecy can lead to contempt, fines, and imprisonment. This is serious.

What happens after I comply?

After complying, you just have to wait and see if you hear back from the prosecutor or grand jury. Often, you won’t hear anything further if they got what they needed.

The waiting stage is frustrating, but try to be patient. Federal investigations take time. The grand jury might not finish its work for many months.

If the grand jury indicts someone based on your testimony or documents, you may have to testify at trial. Or prosecutors could ask you to testify before a different grand jury.

Getting a federal grand jury subpoena is unsettling. But with an experienced lawyer’s help, you can effectively respond while protecting your rights. Don’t ignore it, seek legal advice right away. With the right strategy, you can get through it.