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How are Federal Crimes Investigated?
In the Federal criminal law system, it is possible, as in the Michigan state court system, for a criminal case to begin with a police report prepared by an officer employed at the state, city, or township level. If the state police department believes that a federal crime was committed, then they will contact an appropriate Federal investigator. They will then work together as they investigate the possibility that an individual has violated both the state and federal laws, or they may entirely turn the case over to the Federal government for investigation.
Most typically however, a Federal criminal case will be investigated only by individuals who are employed within a variety of Government agencies. These criminal investigators collect the evidence and provide it to the United States Attorneys in the respective district. The most common agencies that may have been involved in the investigation of your case include:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
- United States Secret Service (USSS)
- Homeland Security Investigation (DHS/HSI)
Additionally, most U.S. attorney's offices in the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan are divided into several different sections. These include, for example, a drug section, a health care fraud section, a sex crimes and child pornography section, a white-collar crime section, a public corruption section, and the catchall "general crimes" section.
Unlike the other sections, the general crimes section handles those cases resulting from a reactive rather than proactive investigation. General crimes are "reactive" because they involve a scenario where a crime has already been committed. Reactive crimes include such things as bank robbery, possession of small amounts of drugs, and various firearms violations. Proactive investigations involve the investigation of ongoing criminal activity. For example, if the government believes that a doctor or health care group is committing Medicare or prescription fraud, then the federal investigators may begin their investigation during the time when the fraud is actually occurring.
Depending on the circumstances, and the kind of crime(s) involved, more than one of the above agencies may have been involved in the investigation of your case. The investigators at these agencies have nearly inexhaustible resources and can thoroughly investigate criminal matters. They also have many investigative tools available to assist them in their investigation.
Some of the most powerful tools are subpoenas and search warrants. Just as with the State Court system, warrants in the Federal criminal law system must be supported by probable cause. A search warrant may be obtained to find and review evidence from a person's business, home, phone, or computer. It can also be used to seize bank records and tax returns, as would apply in cases involving allegations of various financial crimes.
Part of the investigation may involve a search warrant. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution usually requires that police officers have probable cause before they search a person's home, clothing, car, or other property. Searches usually require a search warrant, issued by a "neutral and detached" judge. Arrests also require probable cause and often occur after police have gotten an arrest warrant from a judge.
At some point in the investigation a "target letter" might be sent to the person or business being investigated. This letter is often followed up by a request for an in-person interview. It is also common for the investigators to request an interview of various individuals at the time a search warrant is being executed at a home or business.
The federal criminal defense lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm recommend and urge that you never agree to an interview with a federal investigator unless you first consult with a lawyer. Be aware that these investigators are highly skilled and know how to trap an individual into making harmful admissions. Also, provided you are not under arrest, the Miranda rules do not apply, and any admissions or statements you make can and will be used against you in the court of law.
Polygraphs are another common investigative tool used by the various federal law enforcement agencies. As with interviews or statements, we recommend you never submit to a polygraph without first consulting with a lawyer. It is rarely in your best interest to submit to a polygraph because they are often used to gather additional information they will then use to prosecute you. This is particularly true of the post-polygraph when the polygraph examiner or another investigator will go over the results with you. Again, if you are not under arrest and otherwise free to leave, any statements you make before, during, or after the polygraph can be used against you.