How do you know when the Feds suspect you of a Federal crime?

Are you unsure if you are suspected by the federal government of committing a crime? It is not always easy to know for certain. In many cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies will provide few outward signs that an investigation into you is ongoing. Then, in a flash, they arrive at your door.

Below, we review the various ways you could learn of a Federal investigation. In some cases, this could occur early in the process. In others, the first notice you might receive is a warrant to search your home or place you under arrest. In any of these cases, the potential criminal jeopardy you are facing could be substantial.

Whether you are certain or not that the federal government is investigating you, your suspicion alone could make speaking with an attorney beneficial. By waiting until you are contacted by the feds or even arrested, you could put your defense at a disadvantage. Your attorney will guide you through the process and advise you on the steps to take to try to avoid an arrest. To learn more about identifying if you are the target of a federal investigation, contact attorney Doug Murphy right away.

Entities Involved in Federal Investigations in Texas

There are dozens of entities within the federal government that could initiate an investigation into you. Some of them are law enforcement agencies that fall under the umbrella of the Department of Justice. Others might be regulators with their own investigative arm. In any case, a federal entity with the power to investigate you also has the power to bring charges against you in a court of law.

In some cases, a single federal agency could spearhead the investigation against you. In others, multiple state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies could work together. When this happens, there is typically one federal agency that takes the lead.

In addition to the investigative agency, you could also be the target of the United States Attorney for your district. As the prosecutor in your case, they have a wide range of resources to not only aid in the investigation against you but to use any information recovered to prosecute you in criminal court.

Ways of Learning about a Federal Investigation in Texas

Most of the time, the federal government will only contact you after they have expended serious resources investigating your case. You might even learn of an investigation at the time of your arrest. The ways you could learn of an investigation include but are not limited to the following:

Rumor or Innuendo

In many cases, other people might learn of an investigation into you before you do. While this will not result in an official notice that the feds are interested in you, there are some important signs to watch out for. After all, the chances of you learning about a federal investigation based on the “word on the street” could be higher than receiving formal communication from the federal government.

These rumors or tips could come from a number of places. It is not uncommon for federal authorities to interview your friends or neighbors before contacting you directly. If someone you know tells you that the feds contacted them about you, the chances are good you will be contacted shortly.

You might also hear rumors that you were the focus of a grand jury. While a grand jury is a proceeding held outside of the eyes of most of the public, word of charges stemming from the jury could leak out.

Showing up at Your Home or Work

It is not uncommon for the FBI to simply show up at your home or office. These are often informal visits, where the FBI seeks answers to any number of questions. These questions might have to do with you or someone that you know.

The knock on the door could happen without warning. They could show up at your home after work or first thing in the morning. They might wait in your driveway until you arrive home or leave a card in your door for you to call.

You are under no obligation to speak with the FBI when they appear at your door; particularly without speaking with an attorney first. That said, the questions they ask could provide insight into what they want. If their questions are primarily about you, it could be a sign you are under investigation.  You are better served not saying anything to a FBI or federal agent then lying to them.  You should indicate you do not wish to speak with them until you have a chance to speak with a lawyer--even if you know you have not done anything wrong.

Target Letter

In some cases, the first notice you might get that you are a subject or target of a federal prosecutor is through a “target letter.” These letters are a form of direct communication from a prosecutor to the target of an investigation. A target is a person the prosecutor believes to be responsible for a violation of criminal law. It is far more serious to be a target than a witness or a subject of the investigation.

The target letter will usually ask you to do something specific. This could include:

  • Testifying before a grand jury
  • Having a lawyer contact the prosecutor
  • Meet with the prosecutor in-person to answer questions

Under any of these circumstances, a target letter is a sign that you are not only under investigation but that a prosecution is likely coming. It is always in your best interest to contact legal counsel when you receive one of these letters.

Search Warrants

Outside of having investigators show up to ask you questions, search warrants are the most common way a person might learn they are being targeted by the feds. These search warrants are executed without warning and could target your house, business, or vehicle. A warrant is a common tool in the federal criminal process that gives law enforcement the right to enter and search your property without your permission. If you attempt to prevent the officers from entering or searching your property, you could face additional charges.

Having a federal search warranted executed on your home is a sure sign that you are under federal investigation. That is because prosecutors are not empowered to simply obtain a warrant whenever they want. If a federal prosecutor or agency believes you have evidence of a crime within your property, they must obtain approval from a federal magistrate to obtain a warrant.

The magistrate will carefully review the evidence in the case to determine if there is probable cause for a warrant. If the magistrate does not believe the government has probable cause, they will deny the warrant request. If the magistrate agrees with the prosecutor, they will issue the warrant that allows the feds to search your property.

The federal agency seeking the warrant must ask for it in writing. The request must come with a narrative describing their reasoning for requesting the warrant. This must include detailed evidence rather than a general request.


You might also learn of a federal investigation against you if you receive a subpoena. A subpoena could seek one of two things: your testimony or your business records or other documents.

Typically, subpoenas are issued by the judge or grand jury in a criminal case. These subpoenas could command your appearance at a grand jury hearing or at a trial. Receiving notice of a subpoena does not guarantee that you are under federal investigation, but it does mean you are at least a subject or witness in one.

Unfortunately, these subpoenas rarely give you much information on how this could impact your life. You are expected to show up ready to testify or provide the requested documents, no questions asked.

Like with any testimony, you have the right under the 5th Amendment to refuse to answer questions that could incriminate yourself. The same is not true for any documents you are required to bring. You may not obscure or refuse to provide these documents, even if they could incriminate you in crime.

Because it may not be clear if you are the target of the investigation at the time you receive a subpoena, you could benefit from working with an attorney experienced in defending federal crimes. Your attorney can prepare you for your testimony and advise you of what to expect. They could also use the limited information provided by the government to determine if you are the likely target of an investigation or merely a witness. In either case, it is vital that you protect your legal rights.

How a Houston Federal Defense Attorney Can Help

No matter where in the process a case against you might be, it is important that you speak with an attorney right away. Do not leave an investigation to chance. With the guidance of the right defense attorney, you could see the investigation into you closed without charges ever being filed against you.

Attorney Doug Murphy is an experienced Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney that does not fear federal prosecutors. He is an aggressive trial lawyer that has repeatedly taken on the government and won. To learn how he might put that experience to work in defending you, schedule a free consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. as soon as possible.

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