Federal Criminal Investigations

What is A Federal Criminal Investigation?

A variety of federal agencies investigate alleged violations of federal criminal law, including:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • The Secret Service
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

How do federal agents investigate alleged violations of federal law?

Federal agents use a variety of means to investigate alleged violations of federal criminal laws, including:

Cooperating Informants:

Sometimes, federal criminal investigations begin when an individual that has been arrested for one offense offers to provide information to federal law enforcement concerning other persons in exchange for a lesser punishment. For example, a person arrested for health care fraud might, in exchange for a lesser sentence, offer to provide information concerning other persons that are engaged in health care fraud.

Taped Conversations:

Federal agents sometimes ask a person to wear a hidden recording device and then speak with the target of a federal criminal investigation. Or, federal agents will ask a person to call the target of an investigation on the phone and then tape that call.

Typically, the person cooperating with the government will attempt to get the target to make an admission of guilt on tape. Agents don't need a warrant in order to do tape these types of conversations.

Uncover Agents:

When undergoing a federal criminal investigation, federal agents sometimes “go undercover” and pretend to be someone they are not, in order to get the target of an investigation to do something illegal or make an admission of guilt.

Search Warrants:

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in part:

...no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If, after reviewing a federal agent's sworn statement, a federal judge believes that there is a fair probability that evidence of a crime will be found at a particular place, the judge may issue a search warrant allowing federal agents to search that place.

Listening in on Phone Calls:

For some federal offenses (including drug, counterfeiting, firearms, and bank fraud cases), federal agents with a search warrant can listen in on a person's phone calls.

However, it's not easy for federal agents to get a warrant to tap a person's phone. For example, the agents must convince a federal judge that other federal criminal investigation procedures have been tried and have failed, or that the other investigative procedures would be unlikely to succeed if tried, or that they would be too dangerous.

Even if a federal judge does issue a warrant allowing the agents to listen in on the calls, the warrant expires after 30 days. If the federal agents want to continue listening to the calls after the 30 days pass, they need to get the judge's permission to extend the warrant.

Reading Emails:

Under a federal law called “The Stored Communications Act” federal agents can access emails that are six months old or more without a warrant. If the emails are less than six months old, the agents will typically need to get a warrant.

Cell Phone Location Data:

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions are binding upon federal agents operating in Florida, has held that if federal agents want to use cell phone data to pinpoint a phone's geographic location, they will need to get a search warrant.

Aerial Drones:

Florida state law requires that in most circumstances, state law enforcement officers must get a warrant from a judge in order to utilize a drone for aerial surveillance. However, federal law enforcement officers working in Florida can use drones for their federal criminal investigation without getting a warrant from a judge.

GPS Tracking Devices:

Sometimes, in order to keep track of where the target of a federal criminal investigation is traveling, federal agents will place a tracking device on the target's vehicle. In order to place the tracking device on the vehicle, the agents will need a search warrant from a judge.

Bank and other Financial Records:

Federal agents can obtain a person's bank records using a subpoena, so they don't need to get a search warrant from a judge. Federal agents will also obtain other financial records via subpoena, such as the online version of QuickBooks.

Witnesses Interviews:

Federal agents can interview persons that they believe have information concerning an alleged violation of criminal law. If the person interviewed lies, the Government can charge them with a crime.

Interview of the Target of the Investigation:

Federal agents will almost always attempt to interview the target of their investigation. Frequently, the strongest evidence against the target of a federal criminal investigation comes from his or her own mouth.

Are you looking for the best federal criminal defense lawyer in Tampa Florida? Contact Attorney David C. Hardy.

Tampa Attorney David C. Hardy is a former prosecutor that now represents people accused of committing federal criminal offenses.

Attorney Hardy is Board Certified by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy as an Expert in Criminal Trial Law. In the Federal Courts, he has handled a wide variety of cases including international extradition, drug trafficking, bank fraud, health care fraud, immigration offenses, aggravated identity theft, the misbranding of drugs, and firearms offenses. He has represented clients in Federal Trial and Appellate Courts in Florida, Texas, and Georgia.

Attorney Hardy has the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide you through this process and obtain the best possible results. Contact Attorney Hardy for a free consultation.