DC Pre-Arrest Investigations

For some criminal offenses, law enforcement officers begin to investigate well before an arrest is made. DC criminal lawyers help clients while they are being investigated to understand what is happening and what the person should do to protect themselves. If a person believes they may be under investigation, they should call and schedule a consultation as soon as possible to discuss their case.

Factors Involved in Pre-Arrest Investigations

There are many factors which will determine how likely an investigation will be, including the type of case and charges the government is contemplating bringing, when the allegation was made in relation to when the alleged offense occurred, and which agencies are involved .

In general, if a person is arrested immediately after an alleged offense, such as an assault in a restaurant where there are witnesses, then usually there is not an extensive investigation. The police will interview all of the witnesses and there may be a follow-up investigation.

Conversely, in a situation involving a drug distribution ring or extensive fraudulent activity, the government may conduct a very extensive ongoing investigation before they make arrests and seek an indictment. Oftentimes, in a sexual abuse case where an individual comes to the police and makes an accusation regarding an event that occurred some time ago, there needs to be an extensive investigation by the police before the matter can go forward. In those cases, oftentimes the pre-arrest and pre-indictment investigation process may take several months or more than a year.

Who Conducts the Pre-Arrest Investigation

The person who conducts the investigation will depend on the type of case. If it is a Superior Court case, usually the law enforcement agency involved is the DC Metropolitan Police Department. There are many law enforcement agencies in DC, including the United States Park Police and the United States Capitol Police. These agencies have overlapping jurisdiction, but most often it will be the Metropolitan Police Department which is also known as the MPD.

For felony cases and most misdemeanor cases in DC, the prosecutorial agency involved is the United States Attorney’s Office. If it is a federal case, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would be involved. Sometimes special details from the MPD, FBI, DEA, and other federal enforcement agencies will work in conjunction. However at the Superior Court level it will most often be the MPD and the United States Attorney’s Office who is involved.

Focus of Pre-Arrest Investigators

Any situation where there may be a live witness or witnesses who can corroborate evidence based on their own knowledge, DC law enforcement will want to locate, identify, and get statements from those witnesses. Depending upon the type of case, they will try to find any video or audio recordings that will capture the offense itself or the events leading up to or immediately after the alleged offense.

In many types of cases, like fraud and money laundering, the government will want to use subpoenas to gather evidence, including bank records, applications, correspondence, and phone records. They will gather any evidence they can to substantiate the allegation of the criminal conduct.

Depending on the case, the government has a broad power and resource to gather evidence whether they are in the form of speaking with people, getting documents and recordings or obtaining anything they can to use against the defendants.

Timetable for Pre-Arrest Investigations

The length of time a pre-arrest investigation can vary widely depending on the case. The investigation could potentially last for just a few minutes to as long as over a year or more. The length of time will depend on what type of case it is and what information they need to gather to complete their investigation and prepare their case before arresting and charging an individual. In certain cases there will be a very brief investigation, especially if it is something that happened on video with numerous eye witnesses or it was a sudden crime, like a robbery or an assault where the police apprehend the suspect right away. An investigation of this nature can last for minutes or even hours.

Fraud or sexual abuse cases can have investigations that stretch out for months or even over a year depending upon what evidence the government is trying to obtain.

Because the statute of limitations on felonies spans many years, law enforcement and the prosecutorial agency have a lot of time to deal with an investigation before an arrest. Once an arrest occurs, the timeframe law enforcement has becomes significantly shorter.

As a lengthy DC pre-arrest investigation occurs, individuals certainly will want to consult with an attorney to make sure that they have someone advocating for them during the process. In many cases where a lawyer is retained to represent someone who is being investigated, but has not been arrested, the lawyer is in touch on a regular basis with the police agency or prosecutorial agency involved to make sure that this is not something that is just dragging on. The lawyers will work with law enforcement to encourage them to complete the investigation and have the matter closed as expeditiously as possible. That is their role in advocating for their client.

Anonymous Tips During an Investigation

In certain circumstances, Washington, DC police rely on anonymous tips or a confidential informant. This often happens in drug distribution situations where an anonymous tip or an informant who they have worked with before informs the police that an individual, either by name or by description, is involved in drug activity.

Unfortunately, the reality of our system is that if a person has prior convictions for a similar type of activity, then it can be that much more difficult to convince law enforcement or prosecutors that they are not actually involved in the current situation. In an investigation, law enforcement will have to have concrete information and evidence that ties a person to the alleged criminal activity.

In general, police will make assumptions that if an individual has a history of similar convictions or arrests for a similar activity, then this individual must now be involved in this similar activity. However, that assumption will not exist in a vacuum; it will have to be something more. There must be some evidence that actually ties a person to the activity. Investigations arising from anonymous tips or informants are most common in drug offenses and in certain gun investigations, particularly because DC has such strict firearms laws.