A Federal grand jury is a body tasked with the preliminary investigation of suspected crimes, before charges are filed or a trial begins. A grand jury has broad powers to subpoena documents and witnesses – powers that are often broader than those of a typical court prosecution. For instance, a grand jury can issue subpoenas for witnesses and evidence with few limits from evidentiary rules like probable cause or privacy.
In addition, a grand jury need not declare specific or limited targets for its investigation. That means that previously unknown parties can become targets of investigation over the course of a grand jury’s inquiry, and may eventually be charged and prosecuted.
All of this makes responding to a grand jury subpoena an extremely delicate matter. A grand jury need not and will not always be explicit about whether a witness is simply providing evidence, or is under investigation themselves. But experienced legal counsel can often determine this by maintaining good communication with government investigators and prosecutors.
There may be valid reasons to decline to testify or provide evidence to a grand jury. A grand jury cannot gather evidence against a defendant in an ongoing trial. They cannot violate attorney-client privilege or the privilege of marriage. Most of all, any risk of self-incrimination may be grounds for invoking a constitutional right to remain silent. However, these rights should only be exercised under the guidance of an experienced attorney.
There are ways for witnesses to limit the expense or inconvenience of complying with a grand jury subpoena. For instance, grand juries often issue broadly-worded requests for documents and records, which a knowledgeable lawyer can work with federal prosecutors and investigators to limit, saving time and expense for reproduction.
In all cases, navigating the grand jury system is challenging, and depends greatly on the ability to communicate effectively with federal prosecutors and federal agents. Tim Bower Rodriguez has extensive experience with grand juries, so if you have received a subpoena or feel you may become involved in an investigation soon, call him today to get prepared.