Subpoenaed by the Government? Take These 5 Steps Immediately!

A government subpoena (or a “civil investigative demand”) can be a scary prospect—even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Whether it involves a criminal or (what appears to be) a purely civil investigation, it’s important that you comply without incriminating yourself. To minimize your legal issues, follow these five steps right away.

  1. Don’t Communicate with the Government

People often make the big mistake of speaking with the agent who serves the subpoena. While the agent may not intend to squeeze you for information right away, normally anything you say may later be used against you. Accept the subpoena in a polite and civil manner, and if you’re asked any questions, simply answer that you have to consult with your attorney first.

  1. Contact a White Collar Attorney

If you have retained an attorney before you’ve been served, you may ask your attorney to accept service of the subpoena on your behalf. This can help you avoid the embarrassment of being served in public, as well as the risk of inadvertently making an incriminating statement. A competent white collar or regulatory defense lawyer will also be able to figure out your position in the investigation, recommend your next steps, and help you comply with the prosecutor’s requests and the subpoena’s requirements.

  1. Understand Your Role

When you first accept your subpoena, it may not be clear exactly how you are connected to the investigation. Are you the central target of the investigation, a subject with a strong connection to the target, or simply a witness who may have useful testimony to provide? After a bit of fact-finding, your attorney can usually get a better understanding of your position. He or she can also help you anticipate the questions you’re likely to be asked, or the types of documents you’ll likely have to turn over.

  1. Don’t Destroy Documents

This may seem like common sense to many, but many fall short of this rule accidentally. It may seem counterintuitive, but once you have reason to believe you are under investigation by the government, you must immediately take steps to preserve your physical and electronic documents. Even deleting text messages or reformatting your laptop can lead to a charge called “obstruction of justice”. If you’re concerned about the cost or difficulty of producing numerous documents at once, you can ask your lawyer to negotiate with the prosecutor. If successful, you may be able to provide fewer documents, eliminate the need to produce certain items, or produce your documents in installments.

  1. Keep It Secret

Again, in criminal investigations, you have no obligation to speak with government agents until the grand jury process begins, but they may try to make you think otherwise. You may receive a letter to attend a pre-grand jury interview. These interviews are completely voluntary, and you should avoid them at all costs. If you don’t, you’ll risk revealing a harmful piece of information, and if your story differs from the grand jury session, you could be accused of lying to a government agent. Aside from your attorney, you shouldn’t speak to anyone involved in the investigation, including witnesses.

Whether criminal or civil, if you’ve been served with a government subpoena, don’t try to handle it alone. A do-it-yourself approach to a serious legal matter could land you in grave trouble. Contact the knowledgeable white collar attorneys at Cove law to get the dedicated legal counsel you deserve. We will make sure you comply with the government’s requests while upholding your rights.

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Written by Andrew Cove

Cove Law has significant experience defending federal investigations and formal actions by the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Finance Protection Board and the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as similar matters on the state level by the respective state Attorney General’s Offices and other local agencies.