Federal agents knock on your door at home or approach you in the parking lot after work and say they’d like to just “ask a few questions.”
What do you do? If you’re like most people, you panic. It’s an unsettling situation because you have no idea if you’re a suspect in a crime, a potential witness or the target of an investigation.
What do you do next?
You carefully listen to whatever the agents have to say, and then you say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I decline to answer any questions until I’ve spoken with my legal representation.”
What shouldn’t you do?
Most people are afraid of becoming the target of a federal investigation (if they aren’t a target already). They’re worried that their uncooperative answers will make them seem guilty of something — even if they aren’t sure of what.
Don’t give into temptation. Exercise your Fourth Amendment right to remain silent. Accept their business card, but do not say anything other than what you’ve already stated. (If necessary, state it again — as many times as it takes.)
Why should you handle things this way?
The harsh reality is that almost anything else you say other than to reiterate that you won’t answer any questions without legal guidance could play into the authorities’ hands — and put you in legal danger.
For example, maybe the investigators say something like, “It’s not about you. We just want to ask you about your employer’s billing practices.” That’s reassuring, but not reassuring enough that you should answer their questions without some solid legal guidance. To buy yourself some time to think, you say, “I know nothing about them, really. I can’t help you.”
If that’s not 100% truthful, you may just have committed obstruction of justice. It’s a quirk of the law, but — even though investigators can lie to you — lying to federal agents is a crime. You can go to jail for that simple statement, even if you’ve done nothing else illegal.
Hopefully, you’ll never need this information. If you do, however, you need seek professional assistance immediately. Federal law is so complex that you have no real idea what you may have done — or could still do — that might lead to criminal charges.