NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 2nd October 2023, 05:51 pm
U.S. Attorney Subpoenas and the Need for a Lawyer
A subpoena from a U.S. Attorney can be an intimidating and worrying document to receive. As federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorneys have broad authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes. If you have been subpoenaed by a U.S. Attorney, it means you are compelled to provide information or testimony to a federal grand jury or for a criminal trial.
This does not necessarily mean you are suspected of a crime. U.S. Attorneys use subpoenas to gather evidence and information from witnesses and third parties relevant to an investigation. However, being caught up in a federal investigation can have serious implications. The stakes are high, and you need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights.
Overview of Federal Criminal Law
U.S. Attorneys enforce federal criminal statutes codified in the United States Code. Some of the most common federal crimes they prosecute include:
- Drug crimes – such as trafficking, distribution, and possession of controlled substances
- Financial crimes – such as wire fraud, mail fraud, tax evasion, money laundering
- Public corruption – such as bribery, extortion, racketeering
- Child exploitation crimes
- Cybercrimes – such as computer hacking, identity theft, online fraud schemes
- Civil rights violations
- Immigration violations – such as illegal re-entry, marriage fraud, visa fraud
- Firearms offenses – such as unlawful possession, distribution, trafficking
The penalties for federal crimes can be severe depending on the charge. Even first-time offenders can face years in federal prison. Some federal statutes impose mandatory minimum sentences that restrict a judge’s discretion at sentencing. Prosecutors may also seek asset forfeiture as part of punishment.
Given what is at stake, targets and subjects of federal investigations will almost always need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer to guide them through the process.
Your Rights and Protections
The U.S. Constitution provides important rights and protections for individuals facing criminal prosecution. Some key rights include:
- The right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination
- The presumption of innocence unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
- The right to an attorney and to have an attorney present for questioning
- Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
- Due process rights such as notice of charges, fair procedures, and the opportunity to respond before punishment
However, you must assert these rights properly or risk waiving them. This is why invoking your right to counsel and following your lawyer’s advice is critical from the earliest stages of an investigation.
The Grand Jury Process
Federal prosecutors use grand juries to gather evidence during investigations. A grand jury consists of 16 to 23 citizens who hear testimony and review evidence presented by the prosecutor’s office.
As a grand jury witness, you must appear if subpoenaed and answer all questions truthfully. You cannot have your lawyer present inside the grand jury room. However, you can step outside to consult with your lawyer as needed. Your lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor before you testify about the scope of questioning.
If you assert your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to a specific question, the prosecutor may grant you immunity from prosecution on the basis of your testimony. This can compel you to answer despite 5th Amendment concerns.
Even if you are not the target of an investigation, you should have a lawyer to guide you through the process and preserve your rights. Testifying before a grand jury, even under immunity, can have unintended consequences.
Responding to a Subpoena
- Review the subpoena, understand what documents or testimony are being requested, and determine if the subpoena is valid and enforceable
- File a motion to quash or limit the subpoena if there are legal grounds to do so
- Negotiate with the prosecutor handling the case about the scope of the subpoena and production of documents
- Schedule a meeting to prepare you to testify if necessary
- Assert valid constitutional privileges and protections on your behalf
- Represent you before the grand jury and defend your rights during questioning
Even if you have done nothing wrong, testify truthfully, and produce all required documents, an experienced lawyer is essential to ensure your rights are protected.
Possible Outcomes After Receiving a Subpoena
There are several potential outcomes after you have been served a subpoena by federal prosecutors:
- You testify as a witness: In many cases, people receive subpoenas because investigators believe they may have relevant information about a crime or persons of interest. The prosecutor simply wants to interview you or ask you to testify honestly before a grand jury. As long as you cooperate and tell the truth as you know it, you should not face any criminal exposure yourself.
- You invoke the 5th Amendment: If answering certain questions truthfully might implicate you in criminal activity, your lawyer can advise you to assert your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. Prosecutors may or may not offer you immunity in exchange for compelled testimony.
- You are offered immunity: If granted immunity, you must testify truthfully and responsively. Immunity protects you only from prosecution based on your testimony, not for other bad acts. Immunity is not a free pass to lie or obstruct justice.
- You become a target or subject: If evidence suggests you were personally involved in criminal activity, you may become a target or subject of the grand jury probe. Your lawyer can negotiate with prosecutors on your behalf to avoid or minimize charges.
- No further action: If the grand jury concludes there is insufficient evidence of criminal conduct after hearing all testimony and reviewing evidence, they may decide not to issue any indictments. Your involvement would then end.
- Indictment: If the grand jury decides there is probable cause to charge you with a federal crime, the prosecutor will draft an indictment document listing the charges against you. You would then need to plead not guilty and fight the charges in U.S. District Court.
While any outcome is possible, an experienced lawyer can help guide you through the process and seek the most favorable resolution under the circumstances. Don’t go it alone if subpoenaed.
Fighting Subpoenas Issued to Third Parties
At times, prosecutors issue subpoenas not to you but rather to third parties like banks, employers, internet and phone providers, medical offices, and more. The records sought might contain your personal or confidential information.
You may have legal grounds to fight or limit the scope of these third party subpoenas to protect your rights. Possible arguments include:
- The subpoena seeks information protected by privacy rights under federal or state law
- It demands confidential information like medical, financial, or legal records
- It is overly broad, vague, lacks specificity, or requests irrelevant materials
- Complying would be unduly burdensome
- Privileges like attorney-client privilege or spousal privilege apply
An experienced lawyer can file a motion to quash or modify the subpoena on your behalf. This may limit what information prosecutors can obtain.
Hiring an Experienced Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
Here are some tips for hiring the right lawyer if you are facing a subpoena from a U.S. Attorney’s office:
- Find an experienced federal practitioner: Not all defense lawyers have practice experience in federal court. Find someone well-versed in federal cases and procedures.
- Seek out recommendations: Ask white collar defense lawyers in your area who they might recommend for your type of situation.
- Ask about credentials: Board certification in criminal law and past experience handling federal grand jury proceedings are pluses.
- Inquire about rates: Rates vary among lawyers and firms. See what payment plans or fee structures they offer.
- Discuss strategy: A good lawyer will analyze your situation and discuss your options before moving forward.
- Check reviews: Visit online sites like Avvo and Google to read client reviews and feedback.
- Trust your gut: Work with a lawyer you feel comfortable with and who earns your trust.
Never go through a U.S. Attorney subpoena situation without skilled legal guidance. The right lawyer can make all the difference.
Receiving a subpoena from federal prosecutors is a serious matter with potentially grave implications. Many legal issues and factors are involved in responding properly. To protect your rights and interests, it is critical to engage an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer as early as possible after being subpoenaed. With skilled representation guiding you, you can avoid or minimize penalties and long-term consequences.