If you have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, our Chicago criminal defense lawyers can assist you in surviving the process without incriminating yourself of a crime. Call us today at (312) 466-9466 for an office consultation.
In both the State and Federal systems, a person who is arrested for a crime must be indicted by a grand jury or be given a Preliminary Hearing. In either case, there must be a finding of probable cause to believe that the Defendant has committed a felony offense before a prosecution can go any further. Grand juries are preferred by prosecutors because they always receive an indictment. This is true because at a grand jury proceeding, the only people allowed to be present are the prosecutor and his witnesses, the grand jurors, and a court reporter. Since the grand jurors only hear one side of the story, they always vote to indict.
Federal grand juries differ from State grand juries in several ways. Typically, they are used much more as an investigative tool by the prosecutors and not just a means to charge someone with a crime. The standard term for a Federal grand jury is 18 months, though they can be extended to as long as 36 months. Also, an attorney can be present with his client when he testifies before a State grand jury, but he may not be present during Federal grand jury proceedings. See Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(d). However, a person testifying before a Federal grand jury has the right to confer with his lawyer, and a diligent attorney will be right outside the grand jury room if his client is inside.
Sometimes the person being investigated is unaware of the proceedings, and they can be "sealed" or kept secret. Other times a person who is the target of the investigation is subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. If you are the target of a grand jury, it is customary that you receive a "target letter." This letter basically warns a person that they are the target of a Federal grand jury investigation. Target letters are not constitutionally required. See United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181, 189 (1977). However, the Seventh Circuit has expressed some dissatisfaction when the government has chosen not to give them because such a failure may be unfair. See United States v. Gillespie, 974 F.2d 796 (7th Cir. 1992). The letter will typically advise a target to hire a lawyer or contact the Federal Defender Program if they cannot afford a lawyer. This is excellent advice. If you receive a target letter you should contact the Law Office of Steven R. Hunter immediately and schedule a consultation.
Anyone subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury has rights under the 5th Amendment. If a person has a legitimate claim that the questions put to him at the grand jury proceeding may incriminate him, he can refuse to answer. See United States v. Bell, 902 F.2d 563, 565 (7th Cir. 1990). A person who receives a target letter would be foolish to the point of insanity to testify before a grand jury. Typically, if a defense attorney informs the prosecutor in writing that his client will be invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the prosecutor will not bother calling him to the witness stand.
The Fifth Amendment protections do have limits. If you are a witness, the prosecution can confer "Use Immunity" under 18 U.S.C. 6002. This means that the prosecutor cannot use anything you say against you in a prosecution, either directly or indirectly, except for a perjury prosecution for testifying falsely. If you are immunized, you must testify or you will be held in contempt and jailed. In addition, the Fifth Amendment does not apply to corporations. See Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43 (1906). Therefore, record keepers and record custodians of other collective entities can be forced to turn over documents to a grand jury.
Grand jury proceedings are secret. See Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 6(e). Therefore, if you are called as a witness you can have some assurance that this fact will not become public, though leaks have occurred in high publicity cases in the past. Even so, whether or not you should testify before a grand jury is a complex and difficult question that requires the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. To go it alone risks talking yourself into trouble. If you are subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, you should contact the office of Steven R. Hunter immediately to schedule a consultation.