PURPOSE OF THE INVESTIGATION
A grand jury may consist of 12 to 23 people. It hears evidence presented by a government attorney regarding the commission of an offense, or offenses. The people who are the targets of the investigation have no right to present evidence to a grand jury. Defense lawyers are not even allowed into the grand jury room. Upon hearing the evidence from the government attorney, the grand jury then decides if there is probable cause to believe a suspect committed the crime in question. If the jury finds probable cause, it then returns a written statement of the charges. This is called an “indictment.”
These investigations can take place either before or after an arrest has been made. In the case of the former, and a person is indicted, then federal agents have the legal authority to arrest the person in the indictment. If a suspect was arrested prior to the formation of the grad jury, then the indictment results in formal charges being filed against him. Under federal law, an accused can be held for up to 30 days before a grand jury must conclude its investigation.
ROLE OF THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Although the government does not typically subpoena targets of grand jury investigations to testify, it will often subpoena people who have potential criminal exposure as witnesses. It is crucial for people in this position to have a defense attorney to advise them about their rights in connection with the grand jury. Potential witnesses have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent in front of the grand jury. Whether and how to execute this right are complicated questions for which the assistance of an experienced federal defense attorney is crucial. If a witness asserts this right, the government can offer informal immunity or ask a judge to grant immunity and order a defendant to testify.
If a witness does testify before the grand jury, a defense attorney cannot be with the witness during the testimony. But it’s important to know that a federal defense lawyer can be right outside the room where the testimony takes place. Further, a witness can consult with this attorney after each and every question. The key is that the witness cannot disrupt the grand jury process. As long as this does not take place, the witness can confer with his defense lawyer for as long and often as he wants.
TALKING WITH GOVERNMENT AGENTS BEFORE AN INVESTIGATION
Suspects are under no obligation to speak with government agents before a federal grand jury investigation begins. There are times when an Assistant United States Attorney may try to persuade a person (a suspect or a witness) into meeting with federal agents prior to an investigation beginning. However, the government has no legal authority to make a person agree to this meeting.
SHADOW GRAND JURIES
A “shadow grand jury” is a tool utilized by a federal defense lawyer. Here, the attorney tries to figure out what witnesses the government may call in a grand jury investigation. The defense lawyer then tries to find witnesses that are friendly to the suspect and are willing to meet for an interview. An interview then takes place which gives the defense valuable information on the issues the government may raise. It is important to know, though, that a skilled defense attorney should use this tool with caution and carefully document all contacts. This is to prevent allegations of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
The federal defense attorneys at Black & Askerov have over twenty five years of combined experience with successfully representing clients on federal charges. They have also advised and represented clients who are witnesses in federal grand jury investigations. These criminal defense lawyers are passionate and tireless in their efforts. If you’re facing federal charges or receive a grand jury subpoena, contact them now to get the legal representation that you deserve.