We receive many calls over the course of the year from potential clients, telling us they received a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office or State Attorney General’s Office and that they are considering whether to go to an interview with law enforcement under a “proffer agreement.”
I have written a number of times about modern technology being used in criminal investigations, from cellphone towers tracking our phones, to Alexa and other smart home devices used to record internet searches and conversations, to security cameras used to spy on their homeowners. Recently, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that Google has the ability to track which cellphones are in the area of a crime scene at a particular time. Once law enforcement narrows down which phones they are interested in, they obtain a warrant for the particular cellphone owner’s information.
The federal government has hired 300 additional prosecutors and created the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement Team to investigate, uncover, and prosecute the prescribing and dispensing of opioids by healthcare professionals – doctors and pharmacists – as well as street-level sales of opioids and fentanyl. Since January 2018, over 200 doctors have been charged.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) operates from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and has 11 regional offices. It’s Division of Enforcement investigates cases and recommends to the Commission cases to be brought against individuals and entities. Investigations can begin through whistleblowers, news articles, referrals from other agencies, complaints from the public or data derived from market surveillance.
A federal or state agent or detective knocks on your door at 6 a.m. and serves you with a grand jury subpoena for documents and/or testimony. Do you simply gather the documents requested and send them to the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the County Prosecutor’s Office, or do you retain experienced criminal defense counsel? If the subpoena requires testimony, what rights do you have?
Over the past several months I have written about the increasing use of every day technology that automatically tracks our movements and records our conversations. Cellphones ping off cell towers that give the government access to our daily movements through information stored by carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Alexa and other smart home devices can record our conversations and keep track of our search histories. Smart phone apps and Fitbits that track movement, heart rates and other physical activity can be used to track locations, times and other physical attributes that law enforcement can access to investigate a variety of crimes.
Headlines and tweets coming out of Washington have put a spotlight on law enforcement’s use of informants, now known in federal parlance as “confidential human sources” or CHS. Putting aside the political theater and self-serving spin of the “criminal deep state” and the planting of spies, how are informants used in every day investigations?
Using human sources (informants) to collect information is common throughout municipal, state and federal investigations. Informants are either individuals who have been charged with their own crimes and have agreed to cooperate in the hopes for reduced charges or sentence based upon that cooperation, or are people who are paid for their information and access to criminal groups or activities. The use of confidential human sources is expressly encouraged by the guidelines that cover the FBI’s behavior.
Tags: Criminal Investigation
While most people consider themselves unlikely to become the subject of a police investigation, there is one common situation in which ordinary citizens fall under police scrutiny: the traffic stop. Police officers are trained to search for evidence of illegal activity every time they pull over a driver, whatever the reason for the stop. While the consequences for speeding, failure to maintain lane, careless driving or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be bad enough – carrying the possibility of loss of driving privileges, assessment of motor vehicle points and higher insurance rates – things become far more serious if the police search for and find illegal drugs in a car. Teenagers and young adults – who are presumed by police to be more likely to be in possession of illegal recreational drugs – are often the targets of such searches late at night, while driving to and from wherever it is that teenagers actually disappear to when they leave the house to “hang out with friends.”
President Trump tweeted that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and “fixer”, won’t flip on him. Putting aside for the moment why the President would say this if Cohen didn’t have incriminating evidence against him - because one could only “flip” on someone if they did - let’s examine why people charged with crimes cooperate with law enforcement.
While most people would say that you should retain a criminal defense lawyer once you are charged with a state or federal crime, the answer is not that straightforward. In many instances, an individual or company will learn that there is an active, pending investigation into their activities. They might be contacted by law enforcement for an interview; they might be served with a grand jury subpoena for documents and/or testimony; they might learn that business associates and customers have been interviewed by law enforcement; they might receive a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office; or they might be tipped off by their friendly banker that their financial records have been subpoenaed.