Are you under the impression that law enforcement is investigating you? Perhaps someone you know alerted you, informing you that the cops were asking questions. Or, perhaps you’re aware of an investigation and you’re concerned that the trail will somehow lead back to you, whether or not you actually played a role in the alleged crime.
If you can relate, there is a good chance that you are the target of a “pre-file investigation.” In Tampa, a pre-file investigation is where the State Attorney’s Office investigates suspected criminal activity before it files any formal criminal charges.
Depending on what the investigation reveals, the District Attorney will either decide to press charges and prosecute, or if they have insufficient evidence, they will drop the case. If you are a prime suspect in a pre-file investigation, you may be able to avoid criminal charges from being filed against you, and you may be able to avoid Florida State Prison if you retain a Tampa criminal defense attorney.
How do pre-file investigations work?
If the police have reason to believe that you broke a state or federal law, they will put manpower and resources toward investigating you. Since no formal charges have been filed, this is called a “pre-file investigation.”
During the pre-file investigation phase, detectives are closely examining you, your criminal background history, interviewing witnesses, and carefully gathering evidence (if any). Once law enforcement has exhausted their research, the District Attorney (DA) will decide if there is sufficient evidence to press charges against you.
Are you currently being investigated?
It can be difficult to know for sure if you’re the target of a pre-file investigation, but sometimes there are enough clues to safely assume that you are being investigated. You may have had a surprise visit at your home by detectives from the Tampa Police Department, or you may have received a call from a detective.
Or, your friends or co-workers may have tipped you off that the police were asking questions about you, but more often than not, unwitting suspects have no idea that the police are busy behind the scenes trying to gather enough evidence to make a lawful arrest.
Law enforcement sees a benefit in these “covert investigations” because they feel that the less the suspect knows, the lower the chances of the suspect hiding or destroying evidence, or going into hiding.
How long does a pre-file investigation take?
It depends on the case. For example, in a large scale drug trafficking scheme or in the case of white collar crime scandal, the investigation can take months.
Pre-file investigations can occur before or after a suspect’s arrest. In some situations the police will suspect a person of breaking the law, but they just don’t have enough evidence to arrest the person. In that case, the police would conduct a pre-file investigation to see if they can turn up enough evidence to make an arrest. If the detectives are successful in their efforts, they’ll arrest the suspect.
Other times, the arrest is only the beginning of what launches into a full-blown pre-file investigation. However, just because someone is arrested, it does not mean that there’s sufficient evidence for the DA to file charges.
When someone is arrested, what happens next is their case goes through a screening process: the DA screens the case to decide whether the evidence is strong enough to press charges and hopefully secure a conviction.
The State Attorney’s Office is swamped and has limited resources, thus, it does not press charges against people unless it believes that it can win. If there is not enough evidence against an individual, the DA will consider the case a waste of time and tax dollars if it moves forward. In effect, the state will NOT file charges against the suspect.
With high profile cases, the police may have enough probable cause to make an arrest, but they’ll decide to wait it out until they have enough hard evidence to file charges. In essence, the police are looking for a “slam dunk” case. Since the case is strong and the suspect is formally charged, there’s less chance of them fleeing Florida.
Your Right Against Self Incrimination
If you are the target of a pre-file investigation, you do not want to speak to the police. Instead, you want to invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Even if you are eager to tell your side of the story, speaking to the police can be the nail in your coffin.
If the police show up on your doorstep, don’t answer any questions and if they ask if they can search your home, politely refuse in the absence of a search warrant. Next, immediately contact a Tampa criminal defense attorney at Thomas & Paulk, P.A.!