When government investigators come knocking, people generally get anxious and don’t know what to do. In our experience, this is equally the case with State and Federal government officials regardless of what agency or department they are from. Investigators typically have the advantage of knowing when they are coming and what they are looking for, leaving you to feel caught off-guard and out of the loop. Knowing how to act on the spot can help you avoid legal jeopardy and ensure that your interaction with the investigators only lasts as long as necessary.
In most cases, if an investigator is asking for something, it’s because they need it. If they had enough evidence to obtain a warrant or make an arrest, they most likely would not be talking with you. It could be the case that a courteous investigator is just trying to save the time and trouble associated with obtaining a warrant, but it is always your right to make them take that extra step.
Remember that an investigator does not have to be candid or truthful about why they are interacting with you, and any evidence you provide can be used to your legal detriment. A restaurant owner, for example, who voluntarily provides security camera footage or bar receipts to help with a DUI investigation, might be surprised when that same evidence is used later to prove that the restaurant negligently/criminally overserved a patron, or failed to properly check a customer’s ID.
While it is important not to consent to any searches, it is also important to be courteous to investigators and to comply with their demands. Even if you think an investigator’s demands are unlawful, the proper time and place to challenge them is not on the spot and doing so risks escalating tensions and prolonging your interaction. Stating something to the effect of: “Respectfully, I would like to speak with our attorney before talking to you or agreeing to anything” is typically effective to assert your rights without angering the investigator.
Be sure that your business has established processes for responding to investigations in place, and that your employees are informed of their rights and responsibilities and are trained on how to professionally interact with investigators. Having an upper-level employee designated to speak on behalf of your business can prevent a rogue employee from making statements that will be attributed to your organization, and gives other employees a way to defer when speaking with investigators.
Every investigation is different, so what constitutes an appropriate response will necessarily depend on the unique facts and circumstances. For more information on preparing for and responding to government investigations, contact Parton Law, PLLC.
The law applies differently in each situation. Nothing on this page should be construed as or be relied upon as legal advice.