There are a number of federal law enforcement agencies that conduct investigations into potential criminal activity. One of the most well-known is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is just one of several entities capable of investigating and prosecuting a crime, though. The other most common ones include the Postal Inspection Service, Secret Service, and IRS.
If an agent from one of these federal investigation entities makes contact with you, it’s generally for one of five potential reasons:
- You are a witness in a criminal proceeding
- You are being considered a person of interest in an open investigation
- You are the subject of an investigation being conducted by a grand jury
- You are a target of a federal investigation
- There is a warrant out for your arrest
As a Witness
When you are called upon to act as a witness in a federal criminal investigation, this doesn’t always mean that you saw a crime being committed or observed any wrongdoing. Criminal trials often have witnesses called for a variety of different reasons. Some witnesses might be important for establishing the timeline of an event, some might be called upon to provide an alibi, and some might be asked to provide expert testimony.
A witness in a criminal trial is believed by the government to have information that can aid in the case against a person. Alternatively, you might be called upon as a witness for the defense to help aid in proving that person’s innocence. Some witnesses might also be aiding cases against businesses and corporations rather than individuals.
Even though witnesses aren’t being investigated by the police, they have the right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney. You are allowed to ask for a criminal lawyer even if you’re not being accused of any criminal activity. The law enforcement officials may act like this is something that indicates your guilt, but that’s a manipulation tactic to make you waive your rights.
The United States government does not have the right to force you to speak to them in their office, your office, your home, or any other area. You can always invoke your right to counsel before you talk to them. You are also not obligated to go anywhere with any FBI representatives unless you have been arrested or been issued a federal subpoena to appear before a grand jury or court.
Person of Interest
If you’re a person of interest in a criminal investigation, this means that the government agency investigating believes that you might be the perpetrator or one of the perpetrators. Alternatively, they may believe that if you didn’t commit the crime, you have information about who did. “Person of interest” is not a term with a legal definition, and it can be broadly applied to any individual that an investigator believes is relevant to their case. In many cases, you are a “person of interest” when you’re suspected of committing a crime, but there isn’t enough evidence to charge you.
Should you be contacted and told that you’re a person of interest in any ongoing investigation, you should get in contact with your lawyer immediately. It doesn’t matter whether you have information or have no idea what the agent is talking about. If you cooperate with law enforcement without a lawyer present, they will manipulate you into making statements of guilt. Any statements you make can later be used against you if the government decides to charge you.
There is a difference between being a person of interest in an investigation and being the subject of an investigation. If a federal agent tells you that you are the subject of an investigation, you should call your lawyer right away. Even if the agent says that you’re not in trouble, ask for your lawyer and do not give any information.
The Department of Justice is legally required to warn individuals that they’re the subject of investigations before they can be compelled to testify before a grand jury.
If you’re the target of an investigation, that means that a grand jury or prosecutor has deemed that there is significant evidence linking you to a crime. The subject of an investigation isn’t always a defendant, but the target always is. If you’re an employee or officer of a business or organization being considered a target, you as an individual will not be considered a target unless there is evidence found that you were part of the organization’s potential criminal conduct.
When a warrant is out for your arrest, the federal agent can arrest you because it’s been determined that there is sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime.