It’s amazing how often our firm is hired by clients that have already been under a lengthy criminal investigation. Rather than incur the costs of an attorney on the front end, they have decided to try to talk their way out of the situation. As a result, the typical person ends up getting themselves into deeper trouble than if they had simply exerted their rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution to just remain silent.
There are two common scenarios in which this takes place: the initial investigation and the grand jury investigation.
When law enforcement first starts investigating a possible crime, it is common for them to interview all potential witnesses and suspects. At this point, you are not obligated to speak to the investigator, but if you do choose to speak with them, you are obligated to tell the truth. Failure to tell the truth to an FBI agent or other law enforcement personnel can subject you to being charged with “obstruction of justice”. It is important to understand that you can be charged with a felony for lying or misleading an investigator, even if you are not the target of their investigation.
Famous examples of people convicted of lying in the initial investigation include Martha Stewart who was sent to prison for five months for lying to federal investigators about her knowledge of a stock sale. Likewise, Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones was convicted not of actual steroid use, but of lying to federal investigators looking into allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs. Observers of both cases have indicated that had both women been quiet and not spoken with investigators, they may have avoided a felony conviction altogether.
After the initial investigation, most cases are forwarded to a grand jury to determine whether or not to issue an indictment against the target of the investigation. While you can assert your rights under the 5th Amendment to avoid self incrimination in front of the grand jury, many people appear before the grand jury and attempt to talk their way out of an indictment. To do so only subjects you to additional charges including perjury and obstruction of justice.
Famous examples of this can be found in the famous case of baseball home run champion Barry Bonds who was convicted of obstruction of justice for giving “incomplete” answers to the grand jury investigating BALCO. Likewise, recording artist Lil’ Kim spent 10 months in jail on a perjury conviction for lying to a grand jury about her knowledge of a shootout in front of a New York radio station. Again, had Bonds and Kim stayed quiet, they might could have avoided jail.
The lesson to learn from these famous mistakes is when you are approached by law enforcement or receive a grand jury subpoena – say nothing. Contact an attorney and let them do the talking for you. You have fifth amendment rights for a reason, use them.