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Frequently Asked Questions

Does the U.S. Attorney's Office investigate crimes?

Investigations are generally conducted by federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations, and Internal Revenue Service. We also frequently prosecute cases working in cooperation with the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General, the Rhode Island State Police and local law enforcement agencies, including those that participate in joint task forces with federal law enforcement agencies. In addition, the U.S. Attorney's Office works with referring agencies to provide direction and legal counsel during federal criminal investigations.

What kinds of cases does the U.S. Attorney's Office handle?

This office prosecutes federal criminal cases committed in the District of Rhode Island. The District is comprised of the entire state. The U.S. Attorney's Office also defends the U.S. in civil suits brought against it and brings civil cases to recover money for taxpayers and ensure citizens' civil rights.

What are federal crimes?

There are many federal crimes. Some involve, bank robbery, fraudulent activity that affects interstate commerce, financial fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, illegal gun crime, illegal narcotics, environmental crimes, crimes in which the United States is defrauded, and civil rights violations. Some crimes may violate both State and federal laws, such as bank robbery, firearms and narcotics offenses. In these cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office works closely with the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General, Rhode Island State Police and local law enforcement officials to determine where the case should be prosecuted, based on where the public would be best served.

How To Report A Crime

Felony offenses come to the attention of our office in a variety of ways. In some instances, our federal prosecutors are involved in investigations of criminal activity. In other cases, federal agents (FBI, ATF, DEA, IRS, etc.) receive information about a crime that has already occurred and then organize their resources to catch the perpetrator and bring him to justice. Sometimes, state or local law enforcement agencies first become aware of a violation of federal law and then partner with the appropriate federal agency to investigate the case.

This office, federal, and state law enforcement agencies encourage the public to report any suspected violations of U.S. federal law. Accordingly, if you believe that you are the victim of a federal crime, or if you witness a federal crime, you may call the RI State Police at (401) 444-1155. However, if you believe the type of crime involves any of the categories listed below, you may report it anonymously to the FBI's Providence Field Office at (401) 272-8310 or by submitting a tip via the FBI Tips and Public Leads form.

The FBI will investigate violations dealing with Counter-terrorism, Counterintelligence, Cyber Crimes, Public Corruption, Civil Rights, Organized Crime, Antitrust, Bankruptcy Fraud, Financial Institution Fraud, Government Fraud, Health Care Fraud, Internet Crimes, Insurance Fraud, Money Laundering, Securities Fraud, Telemarketing Fraud, Art Theft, and Crimes Against Children.

The DEA is responsible for investigating federal drug crimes. Most low level drug offenses however are prosecuted and the state level and may be reported to your local police department or to the RI State Police by calling (401) 444-1000.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ("ATF") is primarily responsible for firearm and explosive offenses. Convicted felons may not possess guns or ammunition of any kind. Explosives are closely regulated. If you know of a person violating our nation's gun laws, report the activity to the ATF's Boston Field Division at (617) 557-1200.

What is a federal grand jury?

Federal prosecutors charge most cases by presenting evidence to a federal grand jury, which is made up of 23 jurors, who are citizens of the District. The grand jurors serve two functions: They investigate cases by reviewing documents and hearing witness testimony, and they return indictments when they find probable cause that a person or entity has committed the crime charged. By law, grand juries operate in secret.

Why are the grand jury's proceedings secret?

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require that grand jurors and federal prosecutors keep grand jury proceedings, including the existence of a federal criminal investigation, completely secret unless and until the grand jury returns an indictment against one or more of the accused. Witnesses, other than law enforcement officials, called to testify before the grand jury are not generally held to the same secrecy requirements. However, under most circumstances, it is illegal for prosecutors to reveal the details of grand jury deliberations. This is one reason the U.S. Attorney's Office does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

What are the steps in a criminal and civil prosecution?

See the Federal Criminal Procedure brochure. For a guide to the federal civil litigation process, see the Federal Civil Procedure brochure.

Do you issue press releases in every case?

No. While we try to keep the public informed of significant case activity, the volume of cases precludes us from issuing releases in every case.

Why does the U.S. Attorney's Office frequently say, "No comment"?

In most instances, the U.S. Attorney's Office declines to comment on pending cases or investigations. This is for two reasons: First, any matter occurring before the grand jury is secret under the law, and we are prohibited from discussing it. Comments made in such an instance could compromise an on-going investigation or threaten officer safety. Second, Justice Department guidelines, rules of professional conduct, and rules of court, as well as considerations of fairness to defendants, require that we not make comments that could prejudice a defendant's right to a fair trial.

What information can the U.S. Attorney's Office provide?

We can and do provide information that is in the public record, either through documents filed with the court or statements made in court. We can also provide status information about a case, such as the next scheduled appearance.

What are other sources of information about the federal courts?

The most direct source of federal case information is the Clerk of Court's Office. Federal cases are filed and maintained there. Anyone may ask to see the public pleadings in a case. The Clerk's telephone number is (401) 752-7200.

Updated June 23, 2015