While most of our work involves defending federal criminal matters here in Atlanta, throughout Georgia and nearby states, we also represent individuals and companies that occasionally are called on to be a witness in a criminal case. Often, people or companies are concerned about their own situation when this happens, and they need advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to guide them through the process smoothly.
The formal process of being a witness begins when one side or the other gets a “subpoena” delivered to the witness. This is basically a court order to appear and provide testimony or documents at a deposition, for a grand jury, or at a trial. Usually, the subpoena is delivered by a federal agent if the Government is seeking testimony or documents. Many people and companies are understandably concerned when a federal agent shows up at their home or office with a court order directing that the person or corporation show up in court.
Quite often, the person or company receiving the subpoena needs legal advice on how to handle the situation. A person receiving a subpoena might wish to assert his or her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Sometimes, the person who has been subpoenaed might have received privileged information from another person that he or she does not want to divulge. If the subpoena asks for documents, the person who got the subpoena might need to decide whether they can or should produce those items. The situation gets even more complicated when the subpoena is directed to a company or corporation. Every situation is different, but for the most part corporations or companies have fewer protections and have a more difficult time in fighting against a subpoena, unless the subpoena calls for the company to provide “privileged” information. This is a highly complex and sophisticated area of the law, and requires advice from a seasoned criminal defense attorney. Representing a witness can be a very complicated matter for an attorney. On the one hand, the lawyer needs to aggressively protect his or her client's rights and privileged information. On the other hand, if the subpoena is issued by a prosecutor, investigator or grand jury, the lawyer needs to weigh whether fighting against the subpoena might do more harm than good.
Federal prosecutors often want to interview individuals before formally calling them as a witness. Sometimes, this pre-testimony interview is more important than the actual testimony. If the prosecutor feels that the individual is hiding something the person may be in more trouble than if he or she had simply declined the offer of an interview. Other times, it is better to let the prosecutor know exactly what the person will say in order to deflect the focus of the inquiry away from that individual or company. Each case is different, and must be assessed by a lawyer who is experienced in such matters.
Helping clients make the decision on whether to cooperate with or fight against a subpoena requires a criminal defense attorney who knows the law, understands how prosecutions are handled, and who is able to come up to speed in a relatively short time.
At Kish & Lietz, we gladly take on witness representation. We enjoy helping our clients get through these stressful situations with the minimum hassle and the maximum protection. If you need help in such a situation, please feel free to call us at (404) 588-3991, or contact us online.