Grand Jury Subpoenas
A grand jury subpoena is a written order for you to go to court and testify about information you may have. You are not allowed to have a lawyer present and can be required to answer questions about your activities and associations.
Because of the witness’s limited rights in this situation, the government has frequently used grand jury subpoenas to gather information about activists and political organizations. It is common for the FBI to threaten activists with a subpoena in order to elicit information about their political views and activities and those of their associates.
There are legal grounds for stopping subpoenas, and receiving one does not necessarily mean that you are suspected of a crime. If you do receive a subpoena, call the NLG Hotline at 888-NLG-DANK (888-654-3265) or a criminal defense attorney immediately.
The federal government regularly uses grand jury subpoena power to investigate and seek evidence related to politically active individuals and social movements. This practice is aimed at prosecuting activists and, through intimidation, discouraging continued activism.
Federal grand jury subpoenas are served in person. If you receive one, it is important that you retain the services of a progressive attorney, preferably one who understands your goal of defending the political movement and friends. Most lawyers are trained to provide the best legal defense, often at the expense of others. Beware lawyers who advise you to cooperate with grand juries, testify against friends, or cut off contact with your friends and political activists.
Cooperation usually leads to others being subpoenaed and investigated. You also run the risk of being charged with perjury, a felony, should you omit any pertinent information or should there be inconsistencies in your testimony. Frequently prosecutors will offer “use immunity,” meaning that the prosecutor is prohibited from using your testimony or any leads from it to bring charges against you. If a subsequent prosecution is brought, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving that all of its evidence was obtained independent of the immunized testimony.
You should be aware, however, that they will use anything you say to manipulate friends into sharing more information about you by suggesting that you have betrayed confidences. If you appear before the grand jury you do not have the same protections as in a trial: you have no 5th Amendment right to remain silent (if you invoke your right to remain silent you may be held in contempt) and no 6th Amendment right to counsel although you can consult with one outside of the grand jury room.
Grand Jury Non-Cooperation
If you receive a grand jury subpoena and elect to not cooperate, you may be charged with civil contempt. There is a possibility that you may be jailed or imprisoned for the length of the grand jury, in an effort to convince you to cooperate. (Regular grand juries sit for a basic term of 18 months, which can be extended up to a total of 24 months.) It is lawful to hold you in order to coerce your cooperation, but unlawful to hold you as a means of punishment. In rare instances you may face criminal contempt charges.