The federal grand jury system can be a minefield, even for those who perceive themselves as innocent of wrongdoing. The powers given to a prosecutor under the grand jury system allow him or her to interrogate the witness on any subject without an attorney present and to demand records and documents that may be unrelated to the specific subject under review.
When the Drug Enforcement Administration asked former child star Mary-Kate Olsen to cooperate with the investigation into the death of 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger, she did the right thing. She successfully avoided potential disaster by seeking and heeding the advice of skillful legal council.
The Olsen case is a textbook example of why anyone involved with a federal or state grand jury should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible, before meeting with investigators (especially federal investigators) and before answering any questions.
Consider the basic facts:
Olsen was asked by prosecutors to answer questions about how Ledger may have obtained two prescription drugs that apparently contributed to his untimely death. She reportedly asked for immunity in return for her cooperating, and in response, the DEA smacked Olsen with a subpoena to testify in front of a federal grand jury.
But without “a viable target” in the investigation, prosecutors dropped the case. And Olsen’s attorneys likely knew that would happen.
If it weren’t for the good advice she was given, Olsen may have been forced to incriminate herself and face possible charges, or to go before the grand jury where she could have been asked far-reaching questions like whether or not she has ever used illegal drugs or if she herself has ever given any prescription drugs to another person.
Had the prosecution proven that she answered any of those questions untruthfully, she could have then been prosecuted for lying to federal authorities – even if she was not the one who gave the medication to Ledger. And she also could have been prosecuted if a truthful answer amounted to an admission of guilt to an unrelated crime.
Therefore, her attorney was right in asking for an immunity agreement before answering questions. The DEA was left with little choice but to grant the immunity or drop the case. They opted to drop the case.
With this serious problem behind her, Olsen has also gone a long way toward repairing any public relations damage she suffered by speculation in the popular media that she might somehow have been involved in the Ledger tragedy. Had this mess dragged on, that speculation would have spiraled out of control into the abyss of tabloid journalism.
By listening to her lawyer, Olsen was able to avoid jail and minimize the damage to her image; most importantly the former. In time, a few bad headlines will be forgotten but a criminal record is forever.