The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has the power to subpoena individuals to testify before the Grand Jury when investigating felony crimes. The Grand Jury is made up of DC residents who listen to evidence to determine whether they believe probable cause exists to indict someone for a felony crime. In DC criminal law, the government must indict all felonies. To secure an indictment, the government must get the Grand Jury to unanimously find that probable cause exists that the person under investigation committed the offense.
Accordingly, if someone witnesses a crime or the government thinks that someone witnessed a crime, the government may subpoena that person to the Grand Jury. If someone is subpoenaed to the Grand Jury, DC criminal law considers them a “material witness.” As a material witness, the person has certain rights. These rights include the right to know the nature and target of the investigation, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the right to have an attorney.
The process usually works where the prosecutor interviews the witness in his or her office. However, the prosecutor will not typically tell the witness that the witness can refuse that interview. The subpoena only commands the witness to appear in front of the Grand Jury and testify. The prosecutor cannot legally compel the witness to sit for an interview in the prosecutor’s office. However, people often do not know their rights and believe that they are legally required to sit for the interview. Therefore, its important to consult a DC criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your rights as a material witness.
If something about testifying could incriminate the witness, then the witness has a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. That means the witness does not have to admit, under oath, certain facts that could potentially lead to an investigation or prosecution of that person. That is why if you think its possible something you would say to truthfully answer a prosecutor’s question could incriminate you in a crime whether its related to the investigation or not, you should consult a DC criminal defense lawyer.