If you or someone you love has received a federal target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal prosecutor, there are some crucial things that you should know about what the notice means and what you should (and shouldn’t) do next. 

Being the target of a federal investigation can have a serious impact on your work life, personal relationships, and every other aspect of your life, but you don’t need to go through it alone. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can develop a plan of action based on the unique circumstances of your case and advocate for you throughout the investigation process. 

What is a federal target letter?

A federal target letter is a notice that you are a target of a criminal investigation. It may be sent from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal prosecutor. The letter itself contains information about the crime that is under investigation as well as instructions for what you are expected to do following receipt of the letter. 

Typically, as a target of a federal investigation, a recipient will need to appear before a grand jury or meet with an Assistant United States Attorney. 

What does it mean to be a target of a federal investigation?

Not everyone involved in a federal investigation is suspected of having committed a crime. In fact, there are three categories of people involved in federal investigations which can be helpful for understanding where you fit into an investigation once you’ve been contacted. Those categories are:

  1. Target – A person who is the focus of a federal criminal investigation with substantial evidence linking them to a crime.
  1. Subject – A person who is under further investigation for engaging in conduct that may be suspicious or unethical, but who the prosecutor is not yet sure has committed a provable crime. 
  1. Witness – A person who the government believes has information that could help to prove the guilt or innocence of another person who is under investigation.

While not everyone involved in a federal investigation is considered to be a target, it is important to keep in mind that these categories are fluid and may change as the investigation progresses. 

For example, more evidence may lead to a witness becoming a subject or a subject becoming a target. Knowing where you fit into the investigation will help you and your attorney plan the appropriate course of action. 

What to do if you receive a federal target letter

The first thing you need to do if you receive a federal target letter is find a qualified federal criminal defense lawyer who can represent you. Once you’ve retained an attorney, they will:

  1. Review the letter and advise you on what to do next
  2. Coach and prepare you for your grand jury appearance or Assistant United States Attorney meeting, if needed. 
  3. Instruct you on how you should or should not talk about the case with others
  4. Instruct you on how not to impede the investigation
  5. Help you to navigate a potential plea bargain or trial
  6. Represent you if your case goes to trial

One of the most helpful and valuable things that your attorney will do is keep you informed about the legal process and help mitigate your stress and anxiety. They will be with you every step of the way in order to ensure the best possible outcome in your case. 

If you receive a federal target letter, you should NOT:

  • Flee
  • Destroy evidence
  • Contact the prosecutor directly
  • Speak to investigators without an attorney present

It can be tempting to reach out to the prosecutor or investigators in order to explain your side of the story. But keep in mind that anything you say can be used as evidence against you in the investigation. It is crucial that you wait until you have your attorney with you before communicating with investigators. 

If they contact you directly, it is your constitutional right to inform them that you will speak with them once you’ve had an opportunity to retain an attorney. While it is possible that they may try to pressure you, by suggesting that your need for an attorney implies guilt, for example, it is important that you remain polite but firm. 

A federal defense attorney who will advocate for you

Federal investigations are serious matters and if you or someone you love has received a federal target letter, you may be experiencing some nerves and anxiety about what lies ahead. 

With the help of a federal criminal defense attorney, you won’t need to go through it alone. Robert M. Helfend is an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who has been fiercely advocating for his clients in Ventura and the Los Angeles area for over 30 years. You deserve to have someone on your side who will keep you informed, ease the stress of the legal process, and fight for your freedom. call today for your free case evaluation – 805-273-5611.