By Greg Westfall




It’s 7 a.m.  


You are the receptionist at a medical office getting the place ready to open at 7:30.


You hear a knock at the door. Upon reaching the door, you see a group of men and women.  Some of them are wearing guns.  


You unlock the door and they quickly push their way in and rudely instruct you to sit down on the couch. You hear drawers opening and lots of rustling around. They are boxing up patient charts.  


When other employees arrive, they are separated from you and instructed to sit down.  When patients arrive, they find the front door locked.


You are now fully into the experience of having a search warrant conducted within your office.


Ultimately, an agent comes to you and shows you her identification.  She is a “special agent,” and she wants to talk to you.  She explains that you are not under arrest and you are free to go.


In that moment, what are your rights?


First, let’s recognize a few things.  One, you are scared to death.  To say you have never experienced anything like this before is an understatement.  


Two, you trust law enforcement.  Why wouldn’t you?  Because you trust law enforcement, deep down, you really want to cooperate. You really don’t want them to be mad at you or even disappointed with you and you believe that to refuse to speak with them will be seen as uncooperative.  In fact, they have said things that imply that.


You ask them what you should do.  They say it’s up to you.  But it doesn’t feel that way.


What are your choices? To talk or not to talk?


The agent is telling the truth when she tells you that you are not under arrest and are free to go.  There literally is no legal justification for keeping you there.  You need to identify yourself for the agents, but beyond that, you have no duty other than to not obstruct their work.  


The far smarter option would be to do exactly that – leave.  


To answer questions puts you at an extreme disadvantage. You don’t know what this is about.  If you give wrong information now, it will be held against you later.  The agent may even believe you are lying. 


It would be far better to have some time to learn what is going on and then make the decision of whether you want to cooperate and how.


In my years of practice, I have seen many instances of innocent people getting threatened with prosecution because they talked to the agents in this situation and conveyed incorrect information.


It is so much better to leave.  


You always have the option to talk to the agents later.  They won’t hold that against you. 


But first you need to talk with a lawyer. Don’t try to navigate this without a lawyer. 


If those agents were allowed, they would tell you the same thing.


Greg Westfall is an attorney in Cantey Hanger’s Government Investigations & Criminal Defense practice area. He can be reached at