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About Federal Subpoenas: Can You Be Forced by the Government to Appear?
You cannot be forced by a federal agent of the Secret Service, FBI, IRS or Assistant United States Attorney to visit their office, regardless of the reason for the request. While you do not have a legal responsibility to do so, you may choose to comply after speaking with an attorney. Although there is no requirement to show up to an office, that is not the case for a courtroom. You can be forced to appear in a courtroom in some situations. When this is the case, being ignorant of the law is not a defense.
There are good reasons why federal criminal lawyers often advise clients to remain silent when being questioned by a branch of federal law enforcement. Although many people believe they are providing statements or sharing documents that will exonerate them, there are many instances when they are providing information that will lead to conviction during a trial. An attempt to cooperate can potentially be detrimental. Many people do not know about their Miranda Rights, which is the right to remain silent and ask for an attorney. Similarly, they may not be unaware of what the laws says about being asked to meet with a federal agent in an office.
Speaking or meeting with a federal law enforcement agent and providing them with documentation requested before you have secured counsel can mean providing resources that will be used against you in a criminal case. This has the potential to cause problems for your defense. Providing information after being served with a subpoena can be a serious mistake.
Different Types of Federal Subpoenas
If you or your business receives a federal subpoena, it can be one of many types of subpoenas. For starters, there is a trial subpoena that’s issued by a federal court for the purpose of requesting your appearance at a specific place at a given time to testify in court during a federal criminal case.
There’s also a Grand Jury subpoena, which consists of 23 citizens that the federal court gathers for the purpose of hearing preliminary evidence to decide if there is sufficient proof that a business or individual committed a federal crime. The Assistant United Stats Attorney issues this kind of subpoena that requires you to provide documents, records or testimony before the Grand Jury. This is a secret hearing and you may not know what is being investigated.
The third type of subpoena is administrative. Most of the time, this type of subpoena requires you to provide records or documents related to a federal investigation that is ongoing. This type of subpoena is for the purpose of gathering data about possible crimes.
Complying with a Subpoena
If you’re wondering whether or not you must comply with a subpoena, the short answer is yes. However, there are always exceptions, which is the case for many aspects of the law. A subpoena must be reasonable in what is being requested and legally valid. Additionally, it can not be overly burdensome and it cannot violate an individual right that is granted by the Constitution.
Benefits of Counsel When Served with a Subpoena
Although there is no requirement to have a lawyer before responding to a subpoena, there are many benefits to having counsel. An experienced and knowledgeable lawyer can help you figure out if the subpoena complies with the law. They can pinpoint any issues that might help you get around disclosing information that you don’t want to disclose. There is a possibility that a lawyer will challenge the request.
In many instances, a lawyer can help you prepare for testimony and give guidance on how to provide the information requested. There is also a possibility that you will be able to provide information to prosecutors instead of standing before a Grand Jury. Whether you want to comply with a subpoena or challenge it, not having counsel can result in undesirable consequences. Attorneys have a level of knowledge that is beneficial in many ways. It’s possible that a lawyer will prevent you from providing details that have not been requested. Sometimes incriminating information is provided even when it was not demanded.
Another possible problem is providing inaccurate information that might be considered a half truth or misrepresentation. Being dishonest, outright lying to a federal law enforcement officer or obstructing justice in some other way is considered a felony offense. In fact, both are punishable by law and can result in a maximum of five years of incarceration. It’s possible to believe you are in compliance, yet there is still the appearance of a falsehood, fraud against he government or misrepresentation. Any of these issues can be problematic. An experienced lawyer can help you protect your rights and avoid criminal liability while navigating the entire process.