Columbus Criminal Investigations Attorney
Every criminal prosecution starts with an investigation by law enforcement. Whether it involves following a driver for 10 minutes to determine if they might be intoxicated or mounting a months-long undercover operation, investigations allow the police and other agencies to collect evidence to help the prosecutor prove someone committed a crime. Sometimes, you may have no idea you are under investigation. In other situations, officers may request that you come in for questioning or otherwise make it known that an investigation is underway. If you ever suspect you may be the subject of a criminal investigation, you should not wait to contact a criminal defense attorney before you agree to talk to the police.
Many different agencies can be involved in criminal investigations on the local, state, and even federal levels. Investigative agencies in Columbus may include:
- Columbus Division of Police
- Franklin County Sheriff’s Office
- Ohio State Highway Patrol
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Secret Service
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
Once an arrest has been made, the investigations often transfer to the state or federal prosecutor’s office.
Law enforcement agencies use many different investigative techniques, from the relatively simple to the highly complicated. Such techniques can range from observations to witness interviews to highly advanced and long-term surveillance methods. Often, an officer may call you and ask you to come into the station for questioning. They may promise you that you are not under investigation yourself, and that you will not be in any trouble if you cooperate. Before you speak to police, you should immediately call a Columbus criminal defense lawyer.
Remember that law enforcement officers do not have to abide by any promises that you will not face criminal charges. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you can still say something to officers that may unknowingly incriminate you. It happens all the time when people speak with police without legal representation. Police have training to get information intended to arrest you. They are not on your side, so you need a lawyer who is working to protect your rights.
At The Joslyn Law Firm, we regularly assist clients who are under investigation, even before they ever face criminal charges. You do not have to wait for an arrest to contact our office - instead, call today to discuss your situation.
You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys to Help During a Criminal Investigation
Many people think they can handle a criminal investigation on their own, however, without extensive criminal defense experience, they usually do not know all of the complex legal issues that may be at play. The right attorney can review what is happening in the investigation and can inform you about what might happen in the future. Some issues your attorney can explore include:
- Are you a target of the investigation or are police questioning you as a witness?
- Should you agree to an interview with law enforcement? If so, which questions should you answer or respectfully decline to answer?
- What do you do if you are called to testify in front of a grand jury or provide evidence? Can you avoid having to appear?
- Is it in your best interest to cooperate with an investigation?
You may believe that refusing to agree to an interview may cause you to appear guilty. However, the opposite can also be true, as you may say something in an interview that convinces authorities you are guilty. A defense lawyer can evaluate your specific circumstances and advise you what may be best in your position. With an attorney present, they can advise you when to answer a specific question or not, which is difficult to decide on your own. Meeting with authorities can be unnerving and often, your nerves can make you appear suspicious or cause you to forget that you have the right to remain silent.
While having the right attorney is critical if you’re under investigation, it is important to understand some basics about how investigations work. The following is some additional information about criminal investigations. However, if you face an investigation yourself, you should discuss your individual situation with a skilled criminal defense lawyer at Joslyn Law Firm as soon as possible.
Criminal Investigations Overview
- Ohio Criminal Investigations
- Ohio Criminal Charges Handled by Our Defense Attorneys
- Federal Investigations
- Federal Criminal Cases Handled By our Federal Defense Attorneys
- How Our Attorneys Can Help in a Federal Investigation
- Commonly Asked Questions about Criminal Investigations
- Criminal Investigation Resources
1. Ohio Criminal Investigations
When law enforcement authorities believe a crime occurred, an investigative period will happen during which officers and/or prosecutors will gather evidence to prove who committed the crime. Sometimes an investigation happens prior to an arrest, such as if officers report to a crime scene and do not immediately know who the perpetrator of a crime may be. In other cases, the investigation may happen after an arrest, such as when an officer witnesses a crime, makes the arrest on the spot, and then the prosecutor must gather enough evidence to prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
The are many aspects of a criminal investigation that you may witness firsthand or that may happen behind the scenes. In either case, investigations can result in a pile of evidence that prosecutors plan to use against you or that may exonerate you.
Crime Scene Investigation
When someone calls 911 or officers witness a crime, police officers must investigate the crime scene for possible evidence. They will scour the area and document all details by taking photos, notes, and video, as well as by collecting any physical evidence they find. Physical evidence may include drugs, weapons, bodily fluids, fingerprints, materials with DNA, and more. They will take samples of all of this evidence for testing in the forensic lab. Officers hope the crime scene investigation will help them piece together the event before and during the crime, as well as lead them to a suspect if they do not already have one.
Crime scene investigations are not like the ones you see on television or in the movies. One tiny piece of evidence will generally not solve the entire crime. Instead, this stage of a criminal investigation should be extremely thorough and conducted by an investigator to ensure the evidence gives the whole picture of what might have happened. When investigators collect evidence, they should take the necessary care to ensure nothing contaminates the evidence and leads to unreliable test results. Your defense attorney can have samples tested by independent labs to compare to the forensic lab reports to identify any possible inconsistencies or unreliability.
Another crucial issue at this stage of the investigation is preserving the “chain of custody” of any evidence samples. One officer will collect a sample and someone else may deliver it to the lab, where several technicians may handle the sample. During this time, it is all too easy for the sample to get mislabeled, switched with another sample, or to have the wrong test results recorded. Officers should to particular care to document who had the sample at what time, where they delivered the sample, who tested it and so on. If documents do not show a clear chain of custody, it means the sample may have been compromised and your attorney can fight to keep the sample out of evidence.
The collecting of evidence does not stop with the crime scene. Whether or not they already arrested a suspect, police will continue to seek out evidence to prove the crime. Additional evidence often includes forensic lab test results, video surveillance footage, cell phone videos, witness statements, credit card or cell phone statements, and more. This evidence can help lead to a suspect or can help corroborate the theory that a suspect already in custody committed the crime. It is important that police collect all evidence in accordance with the law and not in violation of any suspect’s 4th Amendment rights.
Police may question witnesses and suspects before or after an arrest occurs. If an arrest has not happened yet, police are still trying to get enough information to have probable cause to make the arrest. In this case, police may tell you that you are not a suspect to get you to talk to them, but this is usually not true. They are always looking for incriminating statements that can connect a suspect with a crime, and they do NOT have to be honest with you about whether you are a suspect or not. If officers call you in for questioning, call a defense lawyer immediately.
If police already arrested you, they can question you to gather additional information to bolster the case against you and get an indictment from a grand jury. Specifically, police seek confessions to crimes or inconsistencies in your answers that may indicate you are lying. Even if you have done nothing wrong, it can be traumatizing to be under arrest and interrogated by police, and you may say something wrong. Police are trained in getting suspects to talk to them, and anything you say can and will be used against you in your case.
When you are in custody, you have rights called the “Miranda rights” under the 5th Amendment. Police are required to read these rights to you when you are detained. While the wording can vary, the recitation often resembles this:
- You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
Police do not have to wait to get to an interrogating room to ask you questions. They can begin in the police car or even at the scene of the arrest - as long as they read you the Miranda rights first.
It is important to remember that Miranda rights are very real and it will not hurt your position to exercise these rights. In fact, it can only help your case. You must tell the police that you are exercising your rights, which means you will not answer their questions and that you get to call an attorney right away. Many people think that remaining silent makes them appear guilty. However, exercising your rights cannot be used against you in court. Because the police can be coercive interrogators, you always want a defense lawyer present.
The right lawyer will be a strong advocate for you during police questioning. No matter how strong or innocent you know you are, sitting in a room with police trying to get you to talk can be intimidating for anyone. Fortunately, the law gives you the opportunity to direct all questions to a skilled defense lawyer. Criminal defense lawyers understand how police interrogations work and the tactics officers use to gather information. We can ensure that police do not misinterpret any information and that all answers are accurately represented.
At the Joslyn Law Firm, we can help you from the moment of your arrest and will represent you during interrogations, so never hesitate to exercise your Miranda rights and call our office.
Continuing the Investigation Post-Arrest
Just because police make an arrest does not mean the investigation is close to over. After an arrest, officers can question you (as discussed above) and can get warrants to search your house, vehicles, workplace, or other locations they believe may hold evidence of the crime. They can also take DNA swabs, blood samples, urine samples, or anything else to test in the lab. Officers will also try to validate or invalidate any answers you provided during questioning. They can fact check your answers in many ways, such as trying to confirm an alibi by interviewing witnesses, checking credit card statements or receipts, and more.
Gathering Your Own Favorable Evidence
Law enforcement authorities are not the only ones who can conduct a criminal investigation and gather evidence. Defendants should also be gathering evidence and witnesses to support their defense assertions. You will need to find anything possible that challenges the prosecutor’s case, and it can understandably be difficult to know where to begin. This is where the help of the right criminal defense law firm comes in.
In most cases, it is not one singular piece of evidence that convicts or exonerates a defendant. Instead, prosecutors will usually piece together many smaller pieces of evidence to create a narrative to try to convince the jury of what happened. For this reason, it is imperative that a defense investigator thoroughly reviews every piece of evidence gathers. This review can help determine whether certain evidence was gathered unlawfully, as well as to identify any holes or inconsistencies in the prosecutor's case. Your defense attorney can then use any discrepancies to build an argument that the prosecutor has insufficient evidence to prove the offense.
Because it can be a single detail regarding evidence that casts reasonable doubt in a jury’s mind, you should always have a law firm on your side with the necessary investigative resources to dedicate to your case. Legal investigators should complete many tasks when it comes to evidence review, including:
- Interviewing witnesses and comparing their statements to what the witnesses said to law enforcement
- Examining all physical evidence
- Reviewing how all forensic evidence was tested
- Preparing reports of their findings
In addition, your attorney’s office should conduct its own investigation to gather evidence that may challenge the prosecutor’s version of events. Investigators often must testify at trial regarding their investigations and the evidence they gathered.
The sooner we canget started on your case, the more thorough an investigation may be. Do not wait to call for help after an arrest or criminal charges.
2. Ohio Criminal Charges Handled by Our Defense Attorneys
At The Joslyn Law Firm, we have the resources and experience to investigate and defend against a wide range of Ohio state charges. Each case requires different types of evidence, and will involve a unique investigation by both law enforcement and by our defense team. We understand how to handle cases involving the following charges, among many others:
- Drug crimes - These include the possession, distribution, manufacturing, or trafficking or any controlled substance
- Domestic violence crimes - Charges of assault against a current or former spouse or partner, child, or another close family relation or roommate
- DUI/OVI crimes - Operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) is one of the most common and underestimated offenses in Ohio
- Traffic crimes - Most people do not realize how beneficial a defense attorney can be when they face traffic violations or offenses
- Sex crimes - Sex crime charges come with a societal stigma and the consequences of a conviction can be long-lasting
- Theft offenses - There are numerous theft crimes, ranging from shoplifting to carjacking to million-dollar investment schemes
- White collar crimes - Even though white collar crimes do not involve physical harm to others, the law takes these financial offenses very seriously
- Gun, firearm, and weapons crimes - Ohio has very specific laws regarding when, where, and how you can or cannot possess or use a firearm
- Property crimes - These offenses include burglary, trespassing, arson, and other acts involving someone’s property
- Violent crimes - Offenses involving violence and harm or threatened harm to other people can have some of the harshest penalties for a conviction
If a prosecutor charged you with any offense under Ohio law - whether it is speeding or homicide - your first call should be to the skilled criminal defense team at The Joslyn Law Firm.
3. Federal Investigations
Not every crime is charged under Ohio state law, and you may not realize that the federal government sets out criminal laws as well as the individual states. Federal crimes often involve serious offenses, crimes that cross state lines, or crimes that affect the entire United States. Federal authorities can arrest you for an offense on their own or can take over a case initiated by state authorities. In any event, you can be sure a federal case will involve an extensive investigation.
What is a Federal Investigation?
Just like at the state level, many federal cases begin with an investigation. Sometimes, an investigation may be underway for months without your knowledge. Sometimes, authorities know a crime occurred and are trying to find the right suspect. In other situations, authorities may suspect criminal activity is happening and their investigation may focus on catching you in the act. In either case, authorities want to determine the following:
- Whether someone violated federal law
- Who was involved in the violation
- What evidence supports criminal charges
How does a Federal Investigation Begin?
Generally speaking, federal agencies get tipped off that an investigation may be necessary when a credible source files a crime report with the agency. Agents and prosecutors may also speak with defendants facing pending federal charges and gain information about other crimes or criminals, sometimes in exchange for a more lenient sentence. In other situations, intelligence or regulatory agencies may receive data or complaints from whistleblowers that indicate criminal activity. No matter how or why a federal investigation begins, it is always a very serious matter.
Who is Involved in a Federal Investigation?
There are many federal agencies that may conduct federal criminal investigations, including the FBI, ATF, DEA, and Secret Service, among others. Agents of these organizations are the driving force behind federal investigations, though they may also work directly with a federal prosecutor. The prosecutor can help guide the agents when it comes to the standards for warrants, subpoenas, and federal charges, as well as the types of evidence needed to prove criminal charges. The prosecutor will also be the one to decide whether formal charges are warranted. Multiple agencies may also cooperate on a single investigation.
What Happens in a Federal Investigation?
Federal agencies tend to have more substantial funding than local or state law enforcement, so their investigations can often be highly complex and involve lengthy and involved methods of gathering evidence. Only some of the investigative tools federal agents use include:
- In-person surveillance over a long period of time
- Wiretapping phones
- Having someone else wear a “wire” to record conversations
- Keep track of online activity
- Obtaining and reviewing financial records
- Issuing subpoenas for documents or witness testimony
- Obtaining warrants to search locations, computers, smartphones, and more
- Interviewing witnesses and suspects
- Proffer sessions with suspects and their attorneys
- Agents going undercover to infiltrate a criminal scheme
Federal agents use all of these tools to gather enough evidence to support an indictment against certain individuals for certain crimes. They know which tools will work in specific situations. For example, agents will not hesitate to catch you off guard by showing up unannounced at your home or approaching you on the street. They will often assure you that you are not the target of the investigation, but do not believe this. Agents inherently have the edge in federal investigations, so it is crucial to have an attorney who knows how to represent clients facing these circumstances.
How Do I Know if I am Under Federal Investigation?
Federal investigations can continue for long periods of time without your knowledge. Sometimes, you may not know you were being investigated until you are arrested, though many people learn of an investigation prior to a formal indictment. Some ways they find out include:
- Federal agents request a meeting or interview with you
- Agents appear unannounced where you live, work, or any other location and try to speak with you on the spot
- Agents show up at your home or work and present a search warrant
- Agents issue a grand jury subpoena requiring you to provide evidence or testimony
- You learn that agents interviewed your current or former business associates or people you associate with and asked questions about you and your activities
One or more of these events can occur in quick succession, and you may learn that there has been an ongoing investigation for months or years.
Another way many people learn of a federal investigation is by receiving a “target letter” from a federal prosecutor. This letter informs you that you are, in fact, the target of a criminal investigation and prosecution. The letter often means an investigation has produced substantial evidence against you and should include:
- The fact that you are the subject of a federal grand jury investigation
- The offenses the government suspects you committed
- Your rights to an attorney and to remain silent
- How to seek court-appointed counsel if needed
- Warnings not to destroy evidence or obstruct justice
A target letter can be jarring and frightening, and the prosecutor may offer to speak with you directly. Instead, you should immediately contact a skilled federal criminal defense attorney at The Joslyn Law Firm. Speaking with the prosecutor on your own will likely not do anything to help you and can hurt your position. The right defense lawyer can examine the situation, evaluate the evidence against you, and explore your options. In this situation, the sooner you call, the better.
What Should I do if I am Under Investigation? What if Federal Agents Want to Speak with Me?
As tempted as you may be to assert your innocence to federal agents, this is almost always a mistake. They know how to elicit answers they can use against you, even if you do not realize it. The only time you should ever communicate with government agents or prosecutors is through your experienced criminal defense lawyer. Sometimes, your attorney will determine it benefits you to provide certain information to agents, though you should always have your lawyer thoroughly evaluate the situation and your options first.
4. Federal Criminal Cases Handled By our Federal Defense Attorneys
At The Joslyn Law Firm, our legal team has experience handling many types of federal criminal charges which include but are not limited to the following:
- Federal drug crimes - Federal drug charges often involve large-scale drug trafficking operations moving across state lines, including the importation and exportation of drugs.
- Federal white collar crimes - The federal government prosecutes high-dollar white collar schemes that may affect many people, involve large corporations, or violate federal securities laws.
- Federal weapons crimes - The federal government takes weapons and firearms laws very seriously, especially in light of the increase in gun crimes in recent years.
- Federal sex crimes - Federal sex crimes often include sex trafficking across state lines and similar serious offenses.
- Federal child pornography crimes - The feds can often respond if someone is suspected of distributing or manufacturing large amounts of child pornography.
5. How Our Attorneys Can Help in a Federal Investigation
A skilled criminal defense lawyer can assist you in many ways. The Joslyn Law Firm regularly handles pre-filing investigations, as well as protects your rights when investigations continue after an arrest. Often, early involvement in your case can result in a much more favorable outcome than you otherwise would receive. Our attorneys can:
- Advise you whether to speak with agents
- Represent you in proffer sessions with agents or prosecutors
- Obtain early discovery to see the evidence against you pre-charge
- Contact the prosecutor and discuss a possible agreement before charges are even issued
- Give the prosecutor important facts that law enforcement did not have
- See if additional information can lead to reduced charges or no charges at all
- Negotiate the best possible outcome, including a dismissal of charges upon meeting certain conditions
- See if you can get immunity for cooperation with the investigation
Early deals with federal prosecutors can often keep your name out of the public eye and preserve your reputation. You may also face misdemeanor charges instead of felony charges and the draconian federal sentences that come with them. The best way to learn how our criminal defense lawyers can help in your specific situation is to call The Joslyn Law Firm for a free consultation right away.
6. Commonly Asked Questions about Criminal Investigations
The following are brief answers to some common questions our attorneys hear about criminal investigations. For answers to questions regarding your specific situation, contact our office directly.
Do You need to hire a criminal lawyer?
While there is no legal requirement that anyone retain a criminal defense attorney, it is highly advisable to do so. This is true whether you’ve been officially charged with a crime or are just under investigation. It is important to understand that the police and the prosecutor are not on your side. If they ask you to come down to just “answer a few questions,” what they are actually trying to do is obtain evidence of criminal wrongdoing. In addition, while it may come as a shock, the police are allowed to lie to you during a criminal investigation. Retaining an experienced criminal defense lawyer will ensure that your rights are protected during a criminal investigation. In fact, in some cases, the intervention of an attorney may even prevent charges from being filed at all.
How can you find out if there is a warrant for my arrest?
In some cases, a criminal investigation may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. In many cases, warrants are issued without any notice to the person at whom the warrant is directed. You can find out if a warrant has been issued for your arrest in various ways, including calling the court that may have issued the warrant or using various online resources. The best way to find out if there's a warrant out for your arrest, however, is to call an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney familiar with the system will be able to track down any warrants that you may have in short order and formulate a plan to deal with them as efficiently as possible.
What do I do if there is a warrant out for my arrest? Should I turn myself in?
If you determine that you have a warrant out for your arrest, you should call a lawyer immediately. An attorney may be able to have the warrant recalled or your bond reduced, allowing you to get out of jail while your case is pending for less money. In addition, if you do have to turn yourself in, a lawyer can represent you during the process and ensure that your rights are protected while you are in custody.
Do I have to talk to the police or answer questions?
No. The 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution allows you to stay silent. In addition, if you are being questioned by the police, the best way to get them to stop is to request an attorney. Under the law, once you request a lawyer, they must stop asking you questions the moment you request legal counsel.
How do I know if I am being investigated?
Unless the police tell you that you are the target of an investigation, you may never know until charges are filed. You may notice cars hanging out outside of your home or work, hear clicks on your phone, or notice someone following you. If you have any suspicions that you are under investigation, you should call a lawyer immediately.
How do I defend myself and protect my rights during a police investigation?
The best way to defend yourself and your rights during a police investigation is to call a criminal defense lawyer immediately. A lawyer will advise you about your rights and represent you in any communications that you have with law enforcement or prosecutors. In addition, if an investigation is actively infringing on your rights, an attorney may be able to petition the court to order law enforcement to stop the infringing conduct immediately.
7. Criminal Investigation Resources
The FBI is a federal law enforcement agency that investigates terrorism, counterintelligence, cyber crime, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime, violent crime, and weapons of mass destruction.
ICE is a federal law enforcement agency that enforces federal laws related to trade, customs, immigration, and border control.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol – Office of Criminal Investigation supports the state patrol and other law enforcement agencies by providing a crime lab, criminal patrol, investigative services, and an investigative unit that enforces state alcohol, tobacco, and food stamp laws.
The investigation division of BCI, which is part of the Ohio Attorney General’s office, provides assistance to local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies. Investigators with the division help secure and analyze, address legal issues, and provide other services.
The Criminal Investigations Division of the Ohio Department of Taxation is made up of police officers and support staff who enforce the criminal provisions of Ohio’s tax laws. It administers many of the taxes administered by the Department of Taxation, including sales and use tax, income tax, motor fuel tax, and cigarette and other tobacco taxes.
The Special Investigations Unit of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office conducts undercover investigations related to Internet crimes against children, narcotics, vice offenses, and the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of criminal intelligence. The unit also participates in any investigation that employs the use of undercover law enforcement officers.