Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys understand that being summonsed to testify at a grand jury hearing can have serious implications on both your liberty and your safety.
In United States v. Chychula, the defendant was charged with nine counts of interstate wire fraud. According to court records, more than 60 people were victims of the fraud, totaling over four and a half million dollars.
The fraudulent scheme involved sending emails containing false investment information and soliciting wire transfers of millions of dollars from the many victims. Prior to trial, the defendant was ordered to undergo a forensic competency evaluation where it was determined that she was mentally fit to stand trial. She ultimately was convicted at a bench trial.
In any federal case, after trial and before sentencing, the judge will likely order a presentence investigation (PSI) and the generation of a presentence report (PSR). In this case, the PSR recommending an enhanced sentence under the federal guidelines based upon obstruction of justice allegations derived from the defendant’s own testimony during a grand jury investigation of her co-defendants.
The interesting question is why a suspect would testify at a grand jury investigation to matters that could lead to charges being filed against that person based upon that person’s own testimony.
While defendants are not allowed to have an attorney present at the grand jury hearing, a witness who is called to testify is entitled to have an attorney represent them during the hearing process. The reason for this is that a witness has a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination (PASI).
The fact that the government can compel anyone to testify at a grand jury hearing does not mean they can force you to testify against yourself and give information that could be used against you in a criminal prosecution. It is for this reason that if you are ever called by a prosecutor, or even rounded up by the police with a criminal grand jury summons, you should ask to speak with a criminal defense attorney before you speak with the prosecutor or testify. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court can appoint you an attorney, but you always have the right to hire your own attorney.
Every situation is different but as a general rule, having an attorney represent you during the grand jury process can help keep you out of jail. If you are required to testify, your attorney can speak with the government about granting you immunity in exchange for you testimony. In other circumstances, your federal criminal defense attorney may be able to prevent you from having to testify before the grand jury at all.
Being subpoenaed as a witness at a grand jury is a very serious matter, and the prosecutor is probably not looking out for your best interests, even though they are supposed to advise you of your rights. The prosecutor may also try to get you to waive your constitutional rights without properly advising you of the consequences of entering into such a waiver.