Here’s a scenario, which isn’t that uncommon; a person comes into contact with you and introduces themselves as a Federal Law Enforcement agent. The man or woman may or may not be in uniform, though they might flash you a badge. They may not even carry a visible weapon or dress like regular lawmen, but they are proceeding to barrage you with questions.
The issues being raised are to do with a federal crime that may involve you or someone else. The officer may be asking for your help or trying to gather information on another suspect. But the one question that needs answering before all others is; should you talk to federal law enforcement? The following is an informative piece on the options available to you at that moment.
Can I stay silent?
The onus is completely upon you to either be cooperative or refuse to talk. Silence is golden so they say, and can easily be undone by speaking; spur of the moment words however, can be very damaging. If you are being arrested, the officer or agent will clearly inform you of your Miranda rights. This is a ‘warning to inform the person being taken into custody that it’s within their privilege to stay silent; as prosecution can use whatever is said to augment their case against the defendant.’
One therefore can reasonably decide to stay silent and let the law take its course. Many reasons exist as to why one may keep quiet; these may include because:
- They have nothing to say
- They require time to respond
- There are things they can’t say
- There is no deserving hearer
- They want to make a statement by silence
- They will wait for an attorney
The legal term used to state a decision to exercise of your right to silence is pleading or invoking the fifth amendment of the constitution. Immediately the 5th is invoked, the federal agent should stop questioning a target or witness and proceed to the next step of the process.
What is the 5th amendment?
Being in the know, understanding your options and what any action taken will affect them; will be of great assistance and save you unnecessary regrets. The first thing to remember is that as a suspect, you have a right to remain silent and protect yourself from self-incriminating or double jeopardy. The 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, ‘no person shall be held answerable for infamous or capital crimes unless on presentment or indictment of grand jury; except in a military, militia or active duty capacity.’
This allows you to stay silent at any point of your being initially questioned, arrested, interrogated or prosecuted (indicted). One can plead the fifth before the police, a court of law or a grand jury indictment and also under the advisement of legal representation. A witness brought in to testify may also plead the Fifth Amendment if anything they say will be self-incriminating.
Can federal law enforcement force entry?
You are at home; it’s during the day or at night, and federal law enforcement officials have descended on you. They could be the Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms or the Drug Enforcement Agency to name a few. They’re knocking loudly on every door of your residence and calling out your name or that of your relation. This is the time you must decide whether to answer the door, or to exercise your right not to?
By law, one has the right to refuse anyone entry to law enforcement their private premises. In the bill of rights, the Fourth Amendment of 15th December 1791 protects against search or seizure of persons, properties or papers. This however depends on whether the federal agents have probable cause or a search warrant. However, in an exacerbated or emergency situation where people’s lives are endangered; the authorities have the right to force entry into your house. Probable cause means that a federal agent reasonably believes that the target has committed or aims to commit a crime.
What are Federal crimes?
The arms of government that deal with crime have a large and far reaching influence. If a federal investigation is being instituted against you, the agents might make a visit or send a target letter explaining what you’re being investigated for. In some extreme cases; they will install surveillance equipment without the suspect, witness or subject of their investigation getting to know.
Crimes that federal agents will be involved include;
- Mail fraud and tax related crimes
- Hijacking and kidnapping
- Bank robbing
- Underage pornography
- Identity theft
- Computer crimes
- Hate crimes
- Corruption or grand larceny
Depending on the purpose of the federal officers’ questioning, together with your answers or lack thereof; and various mitigating factors of the investigation, the next best plan of action is to hire a legal counsel.