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DC Pre-Arrest Investigations

The extent to which law enforcement conducts investigations depends on the complexity of the case. If for example a person gets into a fight at a bar and the police are called then the police may not conduct a very lengthy, extensive investigation before arresting someone. They may simply get the story from one person, decide there is enough evidence to arrest another person for an assault and then go about conducting the arrest. That entire investigation may last simply 10 minutes or may be even fewer minutes than that.

However, more complicated cases could result in very lengthy investigations which can last months or even years before an arrest is made. This can be the case especially when there is DNA that needs to be tested, large number of witnesses who need to be interviewed or complicated expert analysis that may need to be conducted before the prosecutors are able to get an arrest warrant. In these instances, it is important that a DC criminal lawyer is consulted before even an arrest as an experienced attorney will be able to assist in dealing with the investigation and making sure your rights are protected throughout.

Types of Cases Involving Pre-Arrest Investigations

Some of the more complicated investigations typically involve allegations of sexual abuse, murder, or certain financial crimes. White collar investigations such as financial fraud could have very long paper trials. Any investigation that requires the subpoenaing of significant amount of documents or multiple witness interviews can take many months or more than a year.

Sexual abuse cases can often involve DNA analysis that can take several months. Sometimes these investigations can then continue even after a person has been arrested.

In situations where a person has been arrested and the US Attorney’s Office needs to go about securing a grand jury indictment to charge someone with a felony, the process in some cases can take as long as nine months before an indictment is issued. Those are some of the kinds of cases that can result in very lengthy investigations before a person is even arrested or charged.

Who Conducts Investigations

In most situations Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C. is the law enforcement agency that conducts criminal investigations. In federal cases the FBI would be involved.

Sometimes prosecutors and law enforcement agencies such as the Metropolitan Police Department or the Federal Bureau of Investigation can join together to conduct an investigation.  Other government agencies such as the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner can be involved.

In some situations prosecutors will take an investigation directly to a grand jury even before a person has been arrested and use the grand jury as part of its investigation process to be able to indict someone before an arrest has even taken place.

Tools and Tactics Involved

Law enforcement investigations can involve witness interviews and they can involve obtaining search warrants for the police to be able to search a person’s house, a person’s car, phone, bank account, or many other private possessions.

Search warrants are one of the main methods by which law enforcement officers conduct investigations, however in order to be able to obtain search warrants the police would have to be able to establish probable cause that there is evidence of criminal activity that could be obtained as a result of conducting a search of the specified location or property.

The police can’t come up to a person’s house, break down the door, and go about searching a house without a warrant. They can’t seize a person’s phone and search through their phone without a warrant. They can’t take a person’s car and search the car without a warrant.

In most situations while they are conducting investigations police need to apply for a search warrant to a judge and have a judge find that there is probable cause to believe that that search could result in evidence of some kind of criminal activity. The standard is not very high. The police do not need to prove that you committed a crime in order to be able to search your car or your house. They need to be able to establish that they have some reason to believe that the area that they want to search has evidence of the crime and they must limit their search area to a narrow location. If they are able to establish that to a judge then they can get a search warrant and use any evidence that they obtain to prosecute a suspect.

Length of Pre-Arrest Investigations

The length of a law enforcement investigation can depend on the complexity of the case. Misdemeanors may not have a very lengthy investigation. In fact they may result in an arrest happening immediately once an accusation of criminal activity has taken place.

In some situations, however, investigations can last several months. In some federal investigations, including investigations for financial crimes like white collar crimes, those investigations can sometimes last multiple years before an arrest is made. Different crimes have different statutes of limitations that require prosecutors to move forward on charges within a certain period of time after the crime was alleged to have been committed.

So in most cases, law enforcement officers cannot conduct an indefinite investigation to arrest someone on an old case.  Most cases have some level of statute of limitation so that the prosecutors cannot take them to trial on a case where witnesses that may have been helpful to the defense might no longer be available, might not remember what happened anymore, or may not even be alive anymore.

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