Interviews with Federal Agents

The most common mistake that people who are charged with federal crimes make is almost entirely avoidable—they speak to federal agents without first talking to an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. Whether the agents are from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Coast Guard, or federal prosecutors from the United States Attorneys’ Office, it is a mistake to talk to them alone. It is that simple.

Why Federal Agents Want to Speak with You

Information. Federal agents and prosecutors need information in order to conduct their investigations and charge people with committing federal crimes. That information comes in many forms, but in many cases, nothing advances an investigation or prosecution as much as talking to someone who might be knowledgeable. They know that many people wouldn’t voluntarily talk to them if they knew they were being investigated for committing a federal crime. That is why federal agents use a variety of techniques to encourage people to talk to them, including the following:

  • Leaving their business card on the windshield of your car
  • Leaving their contact information at your place of work or on the front door of your home
  • Telling you that you are only a witness in a case

Why You Shouldn’t Talk To Federal Agents Alone

Even if it’s true that you are not a suspect in the case, there are several reasons why you should never talk to the agents before first contacting an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. First, it can be a separate crime to lie or to provide misleading information to federal agents such IRS representatives. Thus, it is possible to commit a crime during the interview, even if the agents don’t think you committed one before.

Second, it is increasingly common for federal agents to have obtained and reviewed a wide range of documents before they talk to you. Federal law allows federal law enforcement officials to subpoena a wide arrange of documents; everything from bank records to employment records and the results of your computer searches. This has been especially true after 9/11, when the Patriot Act and other laws were changed to give more power to federal agents. Thus, if you speak to them by yourself, you have no idea whether or how much information they have already obtained about you. Under these circumstances, you will not outsmart them. They will ask questions that seem innocent to you, but are in fact designed to catch you in a lie or otherwise create a legal problem for you.

Third, meetings with federal agents are extremely tense for someone who has little or no experience being interviewed. Federal agents have conducted hundreds if not thousands of such interviews. Even the calmest person will act nervous or say the wrong words in this setting. You should therefore ensure that you are represented by someone who is as experienced in these interviews as the federal agents themselves.


There are several potential benefits to speaking with an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer when you have been contacted by any federal law enforcement official, including:

  • Having the lawyer find out what the federal agents want from you
  • Having the lawyer tell your side of the story before any meeting
  • Arranging for you to speak to the agents at a time that is more convenient for you
  • Stopping the federal agents from contacting you directly and having any communications go through your lawyer.

Every case is different and no lawyer can guarantee what will happen in your specific situation. In fact, any lawyer who makes any guarantees about what they can do for you when speaking to federal law enforcement or prosecutors is at a minimum breaking their ethical duties as a lawyer or most likely lying to you. But there is no question that many of the clients we have represented over the years were much better off because they didn’t speak to federal agents alone.

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