Every federal case in New Jersey's District Court starts with an investigation. If you are facing criminal charges now, the investigation has already taken place. Still, it may be helpful to understand the elements of federal investigations in New Jersey, as the investigation will be relevant to your defense.
What Is the Goal of a Federal Investigation?
During an investigation, federal law enforcement agencies may gather information, digitally and physically surveil subjects, and take other investigative measures to:
- Determine if one or more parties are committing, or have committed criminal offenses
- Determine who has committed what offense
- Compile evidence in preparation for a federal criminal case
Federal investigators may employ several tactics during an investigation in New Jersey. These tactics are meant to build as strong a case as possible for the prosecutor who will try the case.
Who Investigates Criminal Cases in the New Jersey District?
You may already be familiar with the federal agencies that investigate (i.e., lay the groundwork for) federal criminal cases. These agencies may have regional offices, and a regional office in New Jersey may have led your investigation.
Federal investigative agencies include:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
- U.S. Customers and Border Patrol
- U.S. Marshals Service
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
- Another federal investigative agency
These agencies may work alongside or independent of non-federal law enforcement agencies, such as the New Jersey State Police. Generally, one or more federal agencies may prefer to handle the investigation as independently as possible, keeping information as close to the vest as they can.
Which Federal Investigative Agency Handles Which Case Type?
The jurisdiction of federal investigative agencies is something of a Venn diagram. For example, the Department of Homeland Security will investigate cases involving alleged terrorism, but the FBI also investigates domestic terrorism. As the years pass, the lines demarking what each federal investigative agency handles have become increasingly blurry.
Just know that if you are facing federal charges in New Jersey, some federal investigative agency (and possibly multiple agencies) has contributed to your case.
An offense may qualify for a federal investigation if:
- The alleged offense violates federal criminal statutes
- The alleged offense directly involves a federal institution, such as a physical attack on a federal employee or theft of federally-owned property
- The alleged offense occurred in more than one state, in which case no single state law enforcement agency would have jurisdiction over the case
Several types of offenses may automatically fall to federal investigators and prosecutors. Alleged terrorism, certain cybercrimes, organized crime, and issues of public corruption are generally federal agencies to handle.
Many alleged criminal offenses, however, may be prosecutable under either state or federal criminal statutes. Because of the complexity of criminal statutes in New Jersey and federally, federal law enforcement agencies may have broad discretion to investigate and prosecute cases in New Jersey.
What Is the Difference Between a Federal Investigation and Other Investigations?
The goals of a federal investigation are, more or less, the same as any other law enforcement investigation. Federal investigators want to compile evidence that a prosecutor can use to convict one or more targets. The primary difference in federal, state, and local investigations is a matter of resources.
The U.S. Department of Justice received a budget of more than $35 billion in 2022, nearly half of which went towards “law enforcement”. By contrast, New Jersey's Department of Law and Public Safety received a budget of just over $228 million in 2022-23 (source: Appendix, p.85). While each budget is spread across various causes and agencies, the financial resources of federal investigators are undeniably greater than state investigators.
Deeper financial coffers may allow federal investigators to:
- Start investigations in a less discretionary manner
- Involve a greater number of suspects in an investigation
- Commit more resources to an investigation
- Implement a broader array of investigative tactics
- Keep investigations going longer
You may face long odds of emerging from a federal investigation in New Jersey without being charged, compared with non-federal investigations. This is especially true considering that, once federal law enforcement agencies sink considerable resources into an investigation, they may be determined to file criminal charges.
In What New Jersey Counties Do These Agencies Conduct Criminal Investigations?
The U.S. District of New Jersey “is responsible for the prosecution of federal criminal statutes for all of New Jersey,” and so its reach is state-wide. The single district contains three district offices in Trenton, Newark, and Camden.
Federal cases in each of the state's 21 counties fall to the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, including cases originating in:
- Atlantic County
- Bergen County
- Burlington County
- Camden County
- Cape May County
- Cumberland County
- Essex County
- Gloucester County
- Hudson County
- Hunterdon County
- Mercer County
- Middlesex County
- Monmouth County
- Morris County
- Ocean County
- Passaic County
- Salem County
- Somerset County
- Sussex County
- Union County
- Warren County
Federal courthouses reside in Camden, Newark, and Trenton. Your case may take place in a specific court depending on the geographic proximity to these courthouses or other factors unique to your case.
How Do Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Investigate Suspects in New Jersey?
Each year, federal investigators gain access to new and increasingly complex investigative resources. Some investigative tactics date back decades, including:
- Physically following a subject and documenting their movements with handheld cameras and written records
- Relying on informants' verbal accounts of possible criminal activity
- Equipping informants with audio and visual recording devices to capture conversations and possible criminal activity
- Wiretapping phones
- Monitoring electronic communications, including text messages, phone calls, social media posts, emails, and other digital communications
- Obtaining and analyzing financial records for suspicious activity
- Conducting undercover operations in which law enforcement officers pose as criminal or crime-adjacent figures
- Obtaining and executing search warrants in the hope of securing physical evidence
Other law enforcement tactics are newer, allowed by modern and emerging technologies and laws. Some newer investigative tactics you may face (or may have already faced) include:
- Law enforcement agents posing undercover on social media to catch individuals in criminal activity, or to elicit a confession
- Using cellphone coordinates, location-tracking apps, or other digital means to prove that you were in a certain location at a certain time and possibly that other parties involved in your case were at the exact location at the same time
- Using drones and satellites to track suspects
- Using long-distance audio recording technology to capture conversations
- Using “sneak and peek” warrants to investigate a suspect without alerting them to law enforcement's presence
Considering the power and scope of modern technology, there are countless ways for federal law enforcement officials to investigate suspects.
What Investigative Tactics Did Law Enforcement Officials Use in My Case?
Law enforcement officials may vary their tactics based on the alleged crime, the nature and relationship of suspects, and other case-related factors.
For example, if law enforcement suspects someone of soliciting minors for sexual activity on the internet, posing as a minor on social media may be a logical investigative technique. If federal investigators suspect someone of embezzlement or another white-collar crime, pulling bank records may be one obvious tactic for investigators to use.
Once our team takes on your case, we will use processes like Discovery to understand the law enforcement tactics used against you. Just as importantly, we will determine whether these tactics were legal, or whether investigators violated your rights as they built a case against you.
Will I Know If I Am the Subject of a Federal Investigation?
One consideration is the statute of limitations in your case. The United States Department of Justice's Criminal Resource Manual § 650 explains that non-capital federal offenses generally have a statute of limitations of five years. This means that if the federal investigators allege that you committed an offense on a certain date, prosecutors must charge you within five years of that date.
Theoretically, law enforcement agents could use the entire statutory period of limitations to investigate you, meaning that an investigation can be years-long. However, the duration of an investigation varies case-by-case.
You may not know you are the subject of a federal investigation in New Jersey until you face criminal charges. However, you may learn of the investigation:
- Through your own observations or suspicions
- Because law enforcement officials request to interview you
- Because someone you know tells you that law enforcement officials spoke with them (possibly about you)
- Through other means
You may want to hire an attorney as soon as you learn of a federal investigation, even if you have yet to face charges. If federal investigative agencies have you in their sights, it is best to be prepared for a possible indictment.
Do Federal Investigators Violate Suspects' Rights?
Sadly, even the most esteemed law enforcement agencies in the United States stray from the letter of the law. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives faced several lawsuits in the wake of a deadly raid on a Waco compound in 1993. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has faced lawsuits on multiple occasions from plaintiffs alleging it violated their rights.
There are many codes of conduct that federal investigators must follow, including as they mounted a case against you in New Jersey. Some potential violations of your rights include:
- Inappropriately coercing or pressuring informants to make statements against you
- Creating, planting, or using evidence in any inappropriate manner
- Using false information to get a warrant
- Taking actions without a warrant that generally require a warrant, such as entering a domicile or business
- Committing entrapment
Nobody has a greater responsibility to follow the law than law enforcement agents—including federal investigators. As your attorneys, we will carefully examine the investigation that led to your case. If there are any improprieties, we will bring them to the court's attention, file necessary legal motions, and possibly seek a dismissal of your case.
If You Are Aware of an Investigation into Your Activities in New Jersey, or Have Already Received Notice of Charges, Hire the Lento Law Firm
Act with great caution until you have hired a lawyer. A single misspoken word could put your future at risk. Our team is available to speak with you right now, so call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.