Federal Grand Jury Investigations

We specialize in federal criminal cases in the white-collar area. And on most of the matters that we handle, we get involved in the grand jury investigation phase. If you have been approached by a federal agent, if you have received a federal grand jury subpoena, a target letter from a federal prosecutor, or if you otherwise believe that you are being investigated in a federal criminal matter, then it is essential to retain qualified and experienced counsel as soon as possible.

We have decades of experience successfully representing individuals and entities that are being investigated by a federal grand jury. And we pride ourselves on working hard, returning phone calls, and representing others the way we would want to be represented. If you have a matter that you would like to discuss with experienced federal criminal defense lawyers, please contact us at (404) 658 – 9070.

What Does a Federal Grand Jury Do?

A federal grand jury is comprised of a group of between 16 -23 citizens that meet in the grand jury room at the federal courthouse. Grand jurors typically meet several times per month for a fairly extended period of time, usually in the range of 18 months. Grand jurors do not determine an individual’s guilt or innocence. Instead, grand jurors serve to determine if an indictment or formal charge should be returned against the individual or entity that is the focus of the investigation. The standard that applies in this context is not beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard that trial jurors apply when deliberating at the conclusion of a federal criminal trial. Instead, in the grand jury context, the standard that applies is probable cause—a much lower standard.

In the United States, grand juries have been around since our country’s founding. In fact, the Grand Jury Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly states that “no person shall be held to answer for capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury . . . .” In other words, in federal criminal cases, an individual cannot be charged with a federal crime unless a grand jury first determines that there is probable cause to believe that the individual committed the crime under investigation. Although this may sound like a significant right that individuals in our country possess, it is not particularly difficult for a prosecutor to convince a grand jury to vote in favor of returning a federal grand jury indictment. Indeed, most of us have heard the phrase: “You can indict a ham sandwich.” Once an indictment has been returned (or approved) by a grand jury, the grand jury’s work on that case is done. At that point, the indictment (or formal charge) is filed as a matter of public record and the individual that is the subject of the indictment is called into court to answer the formal charge.

One reason it is not difficult for federal prosecutors to convince grand juries to return an indictment is because, unlike a federal criminal trial, the grand jury process is not adversarial. In fact, it is extremely one sided. All of the information that is presented for a federal grand jury’s consideration is presented by a federal prosecutor. The prosecutor conducting the grand jury investigation determines what witnesses to call, the documents and other materials to subpoena, and what charges to present to the grand jury. During this entire process, the target or subject of the federal grand jury investigation is not permitted to cross examine the government’s witnesses, present defense witnesses, or introduce any evidence on behalf of the defense. Moreover, under current law, federal prosecutors are not even required to present evidence that is favorable or exculpatory to the individual under investigation.

When Should I Contact a Lawyer?

In our experience, you should contact a qualified federal criminal defense attorney as soon as you learn that you are under investigation, or if you or your business receives a federal grand jury subpoena. There are different ways for one to learn that he or she is the focus of a federal grand jury investigation. Oftentimes, federal agents approach the individual that is the target or subject of the investigation and attempt to interview the individual concerning the topic areas that are the focus of the investigation. In our view, it is a mistake for any individual to speak with federal agents without first contacting qualified counsel and obtaining advice concerning the agents’ request for an interview. In some circumstances, it may make perfect sense to sit for an interview. However, that decision cannot be made without learning more, evaluating the options and having a conversation with the federal prosecutor that is overseeing the federal grand jury investigation.

On other occasions, federal agents may not approach the target or subject of the grand jury investigation directly. Instead, an individual may learn (or come to suspect) that he or she is the focus of a federal grand jury investigation because federal agents are contacting others, and word of this contact gets back to the target or subject of the investigation. In this situation, it is critical for the target or subject of the federal grand jury investigation not to speak to any individuals the federal agents have contacted. The reason for this is straightforward: Under federal criminal law, obstruction of justice and witness tampering are separate crimes. Even if someone has no intention of committing such crimes (and most people don’t), the best approach is to retain qualified counsel. Once this occurs, the attorney you retain can then determine the best approach for reaching out to the individuals that have been approached by federal agents. Most frequently, this involves utilizing an experienced investigator, who is usually a retired federal agent. We frequently utilize and work closely with qualified investigators, who become important members of our multi-member defense teams.

Sometimes, an individual learns that he or she is the focus of a federal grand jury investigation because he or she receives a letter from a federal prosecutor. This type of letter is known as a “target” letter. Among other things, it informs the recipient of the letter that he or she is the “target” of a federal investigation and that he or she should retain an attorney and have that attorney reach out to the federal prosecutor by a certain date. Of course, when an individual receives a “target” letter, that individual should reach out to a qualified federal criminal defense lawyer right away.

Do I Have Rights if I Receive a Federal Grand Jury Subpoena?

The short answer to this question is yes. Absolutely. If you receive a federal grand jury subpoena, you have constitutional rights that are designed to protect you. Importantly, these rights exist for those individuals that may have done something wrong, as well as those individuals who are completely innocent.

For instance, if an individual receives a federal grand jury subpoena that directs him or her to appear before a grand jury to provide testimony, in most situations, that individual can invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. In addition, if an individual receives a federal grand jury subpoena which directs him or her to produce documents to the grand jury, that individual may be able to invoke the “act of production” privilege, which also has its origins in the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Determining precisely what to do if you receive a grand jury subpoena for testimony or documents can be a complex process. In addition, the decisions made at this early stage can have an impact on how the matter ultimately gets resolved. For these reasons, it is critical to retain qualified federal criminal defense counsel at the earliest possible time. Getting skilled counsel on board early can have major implications in the end. As you can see from reviewing our credentials, we have a great deal of experience in this area. Simply put, this is what we do. Therefore, if you have a matter that you would like to discuss with us, please contact us at (404) 658 – 9070.

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