In the United States and its territories, FBI special agents have the authority to make arrests for any federal offense committed in their presence or when they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed, or is committing, a felony violation of United States laws. Arrests can only be made by specially trained agents who have completed a full year of work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Agents are given arresting authority at the end of their first year as part of their initiation into the FBI.
During their first year with the FBI, new agents are assigned to work in one of the agency's 56 field offices across the country. It is there that they learn the details of individual cases from supervisors and staff investigators, and they make their own decisions about whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges. If so, the agent prepares an affidavit stating why he or she believes a crime has been committed and requesting an arrest warrant from a district attorney or other prosecutor. The agent then seeks out the accused person and attempts to make an arrest. If the person refuses to comply, the agent reports the incident to a supervisor who will determine what action, if any, should be taken.
Agents can also participate in "roving" patrols where they visit different parts of a state or country in order to maintain awareness of crimes being committed elsewhere.
On foreign land, FBI special agents normally do not have the ability to conduct arrests, except in circumstances when Congress has granted the FBI extraterritorial jurisdiction with the cooperation of the host country. An example is the United States' authority at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. There are also times when federal agents working for U.S. embassies and other diplomatic facilities may be able to make arrests within the territory of another country if they are given permission to do so by their embassy.
In general, aliens arrested for immigration violations are processed through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and held until they can be sent back to their home countries or released into the United States. However, some immigrants who are convicted of crimes may be ordered removed by a federal judge. In this case, the immigrant would be returned to his or her country of origin without further review by CBP officials. Criminal aliens who receive final orders of removal cannot legally re-enter the United States.
It is important to understand that although criminal aliens can be deported from the United States, this does not mean that all criminal aliens will be deported. The decision to deport an alien is generally left up to the discretion of the attorney general or designee. There are cases where attorneys have been able to convince these officials to withdraw charges or negotiate lenient sentences in return for deportation.
Except under certain restricted situations, you may not be arrested by an FBI or Secret Service agent. If you are detained without a warrant or without reasonable cause to suspect you committed a crime or a severe misdemeanor, your civil rights have been violated and you should seek legal counsel immediately.
Your constitutional rights can be revoked if you are found to be an "agent of the federal government" during your employment with the FBI or Secret Service. The determination of whether or not you are an "agent of the federal government" is made on a case-by-case basis, but generally includes any person who performs a federal function directly related to the investigation or prosecution of crimes.
Examples of persons who do not qualify as federal agents include most law enforcement officers, such as local police officers; security guards; and personnel who work in facilities used by the FBI or Secret Service but who do not perform investigative duties.
Only a few states' laws protect federal agents from being sued. These laws provide that when federal agents act within the scope of their authority as defined by federal statute or regulation, they are immune from suit. Although these statutes may provide some protection for federal agents, they also limit individuals' rights to file lawsuits against them. Agents cannot be held liable for actions taken in good faith performance of their duties.
Federal agents are subject to the same criminal laws as other citizens.