Best Way to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions
How to Behave when Questioned by Federal Agents
The way to behave when being questioned by federal agents, or really any kind of police authorities, will vary depending on the situation. Depending on the situation, you could be questioned by agents of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), or Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Whether you are at home, in your car, or out in a public situation, you still have certain rights. You should always be respectful, but you can also protect your rights. Think ahead and have an idea of what you will and will not do in any of these situations.
Responding to Questioning
Exercise your right to remain silent.According to the U.S. Constitution, no person can be forced to testify or say anything against his or her own interests. You have the right to remain silent, no matter what the officer or agent may say to you. Anything you say could be used against you in court or some other legal proceeding.
- In some states, you may be required by law to provide your identification, which would include your name and address. You are not required to answer any further questions.
- If an agent begins questioning you, just say, “I do not wish to answer any questions unless my attorney is present.”
Ask to speak with your attorney.If you are stopped and questioned by a federal agent, you should ask to speak with your attorney before you answer any questions. Even if you believe that what you say would help your position, you should wait for your attorney. An attorney can help you understand your rights and be sure that you do not say anything that can incriminate you. An attorney can also help you evaluate any offers that the agents might make regarding any deals in exchange for what you say.
- The agents questioning you may try to convince you to answer their questions without your attorney by telling you that they can offer a deal. Realize that any deal they offer without your attorney present will likely still be available after your attorney arrives. Do not fall for that gimmick.
- If you are taken into custody, ask to contact your attorney right away. If you are not taken into custody but agents attempt to question you, contact your attorney as soon as you can. Do not speak with any agents without your attorney present.
Be respectful and responsive.If you are stopped by a federal agent while out in public, either while driving in your car, at your place of business, or in any other public location, you should respond to any reasonable directions you are given. If you refuse to comply with an agent’s directions, you could provoke some further action or provide some reasonable suspicion for your own arrest. Realize that not only the words you say but also your actions and other responses may constitute evidence in some future hearing.
- Do not run or try to flee if a federal agent seeks to question you. Any such attempts will only jeopardize your own safety and increase any charges that may already exist against you.
- Do not begin to lash out physically or verbally. Any such action will only make the situation worse and can result in additional charges against you.
- Realize that if you remain respectful, your good behavior may be supportive in any hearing that may arise.
Keep your cool and your composure.Everyone has probably heard of the “good cop/bad cop” routine, where one agent or officer may berate or assault you, to make you want to speak with a different officer.Alternatively, questioners may say things that are designed to anger or upset you, to get you to lose your composure and say something incriminating. Try not to fall into either trap. Think carefully about everything you say, and keep your mouth shut until your attorney arrives.
Refuse any warrantless search.The Fourth Amendment prevents any unreasonable search without a search warrant. This prohibition applies to federal agents as much as to any other law enforcement officer. If the agent questioning you attempts to conduct a search, you should refuse unless you are presented with a warrant.
- This prohibition against warrantless searches applies equally to your home, your car, your person, or anything you are carrying.
- If an agent insists on searching you, your car or any other property, you should not physically resist. If possible, find a witness and say aloud, “I do not consent to this search.” The agent may proceed with the search anyway, but you will preserve an issue for argument if you are ever taken to trial.
Responding to a Federal Agent at Your Home
Meet the agent at the door.If a federal agent comes to speak to you at your home, you should meet him or her at the door. You are not obligated to allow the agent into your home, unless the agent has a search warrant. Even if the agent says something like, “I just have a few questions,” or “It would be easier to do this inside,” you should ask him or her to stay outside.
- Stand your ground. If the agent insists on coming into your home, you have the right to say, “I would rather speak with you here,” or “Unless you have a warrant, I do not want you to come in.” If the agent says that he or she can get a warrant anyway, say, “That’s fine. When you have a warrant, then you will be able to come in. But not now.”
- If the agent physically forces his or her way into your house, do not take physical action to resist. If you react physically, you may only provoke further action or provide some rationale for the agent to arrest you.
Ask to contact your lawyer right away.As soon as possible, inform the agent that you wish to contact your lawyer. You should then call your lawyer and let him or her know about the situation before you continue saying anything to the agent.
- If a federal agent comes to your home to question you, the first thing you should say (as soon as you realize what is going on) is, “I would like to talk with my lawyer before I continue this conversation,” or, “I will not answer any questions until my attorney is present.”
- Justice Department policy directs federal agents to cease all questioning as soon as you inform them that you are represented by an attorney.
- If you do not have an attorney, you should still give the same responses. As soon as the agent leaves, you should find one. See Find a Good Criminal Defense Law Firm or Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer for help in selecting a good attorney to help you.
- If the agent presents you with a search warrant, notify your attorney of this and describe the details of the warrant.
Maintain your right to silence.A search warrant, if the agent has one, provides the agents with the right to search your premises, but it does not compel you to speak. You may ask questions about the warrant and about the search, without giving up this right. Do not feel compelled to answer any questions that any of the agents may ask you while conducting the search.
- If anyone persists in questioning you during a search, you should respond that you do not want to speak without your attorney. Just say, “I’m sorry, but I wish to have my attorney present before I say anything.”
Ask for the agent’s identification.If someone comes to your door and identifies himself or herself as a federal agent, you should ask to see some identification. The agent may show you a badge of some kind. You should also ask for a business card, so you will have contact information to pass on to your attorney.
- While remaining respectful, you can ask, “May I see some identification?” and then follow that with, “Do you have a business card with your contact information?”
Ask to see a search warrant before allowing anyone in your home.If an agent arrives at your home with a search warrant, you have the right to review it before granting access. Ask to see the warrant right away. The search warrant must describe, in some detail, the location that is to be searched and the purpose of the search. Make sure that the location given on the warrant accurately describes your residence.
- Before allowing anyone into your home, ask, “Do you have a search warrant, and if so, may I see it?” Then, review the warrant’s details. Do not feel pressured to rush or hurry. Take your time and read the warrant carefully before granting access.
- For example, if the warrant gives a different address, you should point this out. If the warrant only says that it authorizes a search of your garage, for example, you should not let the agents into your house.
Accompany the agents on the search, if permitted.As much as you can, follow the agent or agents as they conduct their search. Watch what they do, where they search, and make mental notes of their conduct. Pay attention to anything that they collect. If you are not allowed to follow the search, or if the agents require you to stay outside, do not resist or take any action to oppose them.
Keep notes of the visit.As soon as possible, get some paper and make written notes of the agents’ visit. Make note of the date, time, identity of the agent or agents present, and a summary of the incident. As much as possible, record what the agents said to you.
- Deliver your notes of the search to your attorney as soon as you have the opportunity.
- If the agents conduct a search with a warrant, be sure to keep a copy of the warrant and include that with your notes.
Responding to Federal Agents on Immigration Issues
Understand that most Constitutional rights still apply.The right to remain silent and the right to refuse a search apply to both citizens as well as non-citizens, in most cases. If you are a non-citizen of the U.S., and a federal agent seeks to question you, you should realize that you may refuse to answer most questions until you contact an attorney.
- You may be required to identify yourself by name and address. Do not provide any incorrect information, as this may create further problems. You are not required to answer any questions about your residency or citizenship status at this time without an attorney.
Provide your immigration papers, if asked.One exception to the rule about keeping silent or searches is that a non-citizens who are over 18 years old must carry any valid U.S. immigration papers with them at all times. If you fall within this description and are asked to produce your immigration papers, you must do so. These papers include any of the following:
- alien registration documents
- permanent resident card (a/k/a “green card”)
- I-94 paperwork
- Employment Authorization Documents (“EAD”)
- border crossing card
- anything else that authorizes you to be in the U.S.
Comply with instructions if your workplace is raided.If you are an immigrant to the U.S., and your workplace is raided by immigration agents, you should not attempt to flee. You have the right not to answer any questions, other than to provide immigration paperwork, if you have it. You should continue doing your work, and comply with any directions you are given. You may ask if you are free to leave. Contact your attorney if the agents persist in questioning you.
Contact your attorney.Even non-citizens have the right to representation by an attorney for questioning or at any immigration hearing. Contact your attorney as soon as possible. Do not answer any questions or sign any papers until your attorney is with you and can advise you.
Ask to contact your consulate.If you are detained by immigration agents, you have the right to contact your consulate. Alternatively, the arresting agent must notify your consulate on your behalf. You have the right to have a representative of your consulate visit or speak with you. The consulate representative may also assist you in getting legal representation.
- It is a good idea to plan ahead and at least consult with an attorney, in case you may need future representation. Even if you do not have a current need to hire the attorney, you may never know when you could be questioned. It will be helpful to have a name and phone number for immediate contact.
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