How Much Should You Cooperate With Federal Agents?
Interviewer: How does the federal process differ from the state process? What misconceptions do people have because they are different?
Paul: Before counsel gets involved, the mistake people most frequently make is they agree to cooperate, provide information, and answer agents’ questions without having a lawyer present.
Federal agents are extremely good at their job. They are well trained to elicit statements and admissions; and get people to cooperate who ordinarily would never dream they would agree to talk with police without having a lawyer present.
So you get a lot of folks who end up giving all the information they have to the government before their lawyer has an opportunity to negotiate with the U.S. Attorney for some benefit, in exchange for that information.
That is a big mistake people make. They let anxiety get the better of them and they start to say everything they know. They do this in hopes that if they just cooperate, maybe this will not get any worse. Once they do that, things invariably get worse.
Interviewer: The police are not your friend and giving them information is not going to really help you. Is it worse or the same at the state level?
Paul: At the federal level, it is even worse. You just do not want to answer these questions without having counsel present.
It is often the case that agents contact you before there is an indictment. Maybe agents are still trying to tie up some loose ends. They will try to contact someone and ask that person to answer a few questions.
At that time, if you hired counsel, the first thing your lawyer should do and the first thing I do is file a representation letter with the United States Attorney. I get the United States Attorney to issue to me what is called a Kastigar letter.
That means my new client will be allowed to speak with the agents, and nothing my client says to the agents about this investigation may be used against my client in the government’s case-in-chief.
I had a client who was contacted and questioned by police. In good faith, he answered many questions and provided significant, valuable information to the government. He then hired me two or three days later when he was really worried about what was going to happen next.
I contacted the U.S. Attorney and got a Kastigar letter to protect his future interviews with agents. But, unfortunately, everything he said to them before I was counsel of record showed up in his pre-sentence investigation report.
It was not protected. The fact that I was brought on board almost contemporaneously did not retroactively offer protection for the things he said 24 to 48 hours before hiring me.
“The Importance of Aggressive Federal Criminal Defense”.
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