It’s all too easy to become involved in a federal criminal investigation these days. You just have to work in an office, handle certain pieces of paperwork or be present when some questionable events occur to end up facing investigators.

Make no mistake, however: Being a witness in a federal investigation can be dangerous. The line between “witness for the prosecution” and “target of an investigation” is perilously thin. Here are some facts that you need to know about being a witness:

1. You probably can’t avoid talking to investigators.

Duck out on the investigators and you’ll likely find yourself facing a subpoena (if you aren’t handed one from the very start).

2. You cannot lie to the investigators.

Lying during a federal investigation will get you into big trouble. That’s considered obstruction of justice and it sends a lot of people to jail. Remember Martha Stewart? The style icon and craft queen went to jail for five months because she lied during a federal investigation into illegal stock sales — not because of the stock sales themselves.

3. You do have the right to refuse to answer some questions.

As a witness, you can refuse to answer investigative questions if there’s any possibility that your statements could be incriminating. (There are also certain times when information is considered “privileged,” like the conversations you have with your spouse.)

4. You aren’t really in a good position to tell when you should speak.

Here’s the brutal truth: Most people don’t have enough legal knowledge to know when they’ve committed a crime and when they haven’t. The laws regarding many industry regulations are exceedingly complex and you can violate them unintentionally very easily. You can’t count on investigators to give you a break, either, just because you didn’t realize something was illegal.

That’s why it’s wise to have someone representing your interests if you’ve been called as a federal witness — whether it’s just to speak to investigators or to testify in a grand jury or trial. Your attorney’s job is to guide you through the process with a minimum of risk to your future and freedom. For more information on how our office can help, please continue to explore our site.

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