Fri 24 Feb, 2023 Criminal Defense

How Do I Know if the Police are Investigating Me?

It’s frightening to worry that you are under police investigation. Sometimes people know they did something illegal, and they are wondering whether the police are investigating them to arrest them. Other times, people may have done nothing illegal, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they are nervous that the police may be looking into their activity.

This article discusses what a person can expect if they are being investigated by the police. The short answer to the question of “how do I know if the police are investigating me?” is that you can’t know for sure unless the police notify you of the investigation. If the police want the investigation to remain secret, it will.

No Investigation

Of course, some people incorrectly think they are being investigated by the police when the police are not actually investigating them.

The tricky thing about this scenario is that, obviously, nobody wants to flag to the police that there is potentially a reason to investigate them. For instance, nobody would want to call the police precinct and ask, “am I being investigated?” Even if the police were not investigating that person, the inquiry could raise flags with the police and cause the police to investigate that person. For example, the police may gather information about the person’s address, registered cars, phone number, etc., to see whether it’s linked to unsolved crimes.

Unfortunately, you cannot know for sure whether you are being investigated, at least until you are arrested or a detective comes to your home and asks to speak with you.

A good rule of thumb is that the more serious the potential offense, the more likely the police may be investigating you for a longer period of time. In other words, the police will not dedicate resources to investigate a petty offense like a supermarket theft. So, it is very unlikely the police are investigating you for a petty misdemeanor, especially if it does not involve an identified victim. On the other hand, with a more serious offense, say drug trafficking, the police may be conducting a long-term investigation of you that could last over a year. During that time, the police would not disclose to you that you are being investigated.

A Small Investigation

For some cases that are not so petty that the police don’t investigate the case at all but are not so serious that the government intends to build a big case, the police will conduct a limited investigation.

For instance, if there has been a series of burglaries in the area, the police may assign a detective to the case. That detective may try to get video footage from all the incident locations and also interview witnesses. He will build up a case file will the information he gathers. If the detective obtains clear video footage that shows a suspect—and the detective is familiar with that person—then he may reach out to that person and ask for them to come to the precinct to give his side of the story.

In this situation, the investigation may not last long before the detective asks the suspect to come to the precinct for interrogation. In this sort of scenario, the police will typically ask the suspect to come to the precinct as soon as the person is determined to be the suspect. In other words, the police would likely not wait for more burglaries to occur in order to build a case. It could take several weeks or several months, if ever, for the police to determine who they think is the suspect.

If the police have contacted you and asked you to go to the precinct to speak with them, it’s important to make sure that you invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. You should not speak to the police without a lawyer present. When the police have asked a person to come to the precinct to talk, 99% of the time they already plan to arrest the person. In other words, you won’t be able to explain away the situation so that the police decide not to arrest you. The police typically consider your version of events to be something for the court and jury to consider but not for them to evaluate.

A Serious Investigation

If the police are investigating a large-scale operation, often related to cybercrime, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, or other illegal activities that span many jurisdictions over a long period of time, a person might be investigated for years before learning that they are the target of an investigation.

Serious investigations are typically handled by special state task forces or the federal government (DOJ, FBI, DEA, etc.).

When the government conducts an extensive investigation, it will likely subpoena records from third-parties to get your private information, such as your cell phone or email records. Although you may be able to quash subpoenas for those records, oftentimes you will not know that you are being investigated, because the government will get the court to order that the third-parties not disclose the investigation to you.

During a serious investigation, you probably will not know you are being investigated unless you somehow determine that you are being followed or otherwise monitored. Typically, the government is very careful to make sure that the subjects of their investigations do not know of the investigation because the government hopes to catch the subjects committing more offenses so that it can build a stronger case.

When an extensive investigation concludes, the government may decide that it does not have sufficient evidence to bring a criminal case forward against the subject. However, if the government believes it has enough evidence, it will typically arrest the subject of the investigation and then commence formal legal proceedings.

When the government thoroughly investigates a case, there are typically fewer issues of fact in a case. In other words, the facts are so thoroughly established that a case will often not be won based on what happened. Of course, exceptions always exist. Instead, cases may be more likely won based on legal issues. Specifically, even if the alleged facts are true, those facts might not be sufficient to support a criminal conviction. 

Need Help? Speak to an NYC Criminal Lawyer Today

If you believe you are being investigated or are already facing criminal charges, contact NYC criminal lawyer Cody Warner for a free consultation. He can assess your case to determine the best path forward.