If you are in some way involved in a federal criminal investigation, you can fall into one of three categories: witness, subject or target. If you get a target letter, which is a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal prosecutor notifying you that you are a target of a grand jury investigation, it means the federal government has reason to believe you have committed a federal crime. Target letters are frequently used in white-collar criminal cases and other serious criminal cases, and receiving a target letter is usually the target’s first indication that he or she is under investigation for a federal offense. If you have received a target letter from the federal government, there are certain things you should do right away to protect yourself, and things you should avoid doing at all costs. For more information about target letters and federal criminal investigations, contact our defense team at Federal Criminal Defense Pro to find out what we can do to help your case.
What You Should Do
A target letter is a formal notice alerting you that you are a target in a federal criminal investigation. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Manual, a “target” is an individual against whom the government has substantial evidence of a criminal offense. The following are some of the most important steps you can take after receiving a target letter. Follow these steps and you can significantly improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome in your case.
The single most important thing you can do after receiving a target letter from the federal government is to hire a reputable defense lawyer with experience handling criminal cases in federal court. Your lawyer will act as your trusted legal advocate from the start, defending your rights, advising you and protecting your best interests in any communication or interaction with the federal authorities. If your case goes to trial, your attorney will represent you in court and ensure that you get the best possible result based on the specific circumstances of your case. But the first thing your attorney will do after you retain his or her services is to contact the prosecutor on your behalf and get additional information about the investigation, so he or she can determine the best strategy for moving forward.
Have your lawyer review the letter.
Target letters generally include important information that you will want to go over with your lawyer, including the crime or crimes the government suspects you of committing and your right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination. The letter may also caution you against destroying any evidence pertaining to the case or otherwise impeding the criminal investigation or obstructing justice.
Determine what the letter is asking you to do.
A target letter usually includes some kind of request. The request may be for you to meet with the Assistant United States Attorney who is investigating the case or to testify before a grand jury. Once you have hired an attorney, he or she will help you determine your next step. If that means contacting the prosecutor handling the case, your attorney will do that on your behalf.
Find out what it means to be a target.
In a federal criminal investigation, a target is a person the authorities believe has committed a crime. There is a significant difference between being a target of an investigation and being a subject. If the authorities believe that a crime was committed, a subject is a person the authorities suspect knows something about the crime, but that person isn’t necessarily at risk of being charged with the crime. Neither is ideal, but being a target of a federal investigation is a much more serious position to be in.
Learn as much as you can about the investigation.
Investigations into federal crimes can take place over the course of months or even years, and by the time you receive a letter alerting you that you are the target of a grand jury investigation, the government may already have compiled a great deal of evidence against you. Or, the investigation may have just begun. This is an important distinction and one that can influence the outcome of the case.
Learn about your legal options.
It is important to talk to your attorney about your options. An attorney who has experience with target letters and federal criminal law can give you some insight into the prosecutor’s objective. Depending on the specific facts of a case, a prosecutor may send you a target letter because the government has already decided to prosecute you for a crime and he or she is hoping that you will negotiate a plea deal without making it necessary to get an indictment. If this is the case and you don’t negotiate a plea agreement, the government will most likely bring federal charges against you. You can discuss with your attorney how likely it is that you will be convicted if your case goes to trial, and, based on that information, make the best decision for your situation. On the other hand, if the government isn’t fully committed to prosecuting you at this time, your attorney may be able to convince them not to prosecute you at all. Your best course of action depends a great deal on the circumstances of the case, which is why it is imperative that you have a knowledgeable attorney on your side who can walk you through the pros and cons of each option.
Familiarize yourself with the process of a federal criminal investigation, charging and trial.
The federal criminal court process differs from the state process a great deal, and the more you know about how the investigation, charging and trial process work, the more prepared you will be to deal with these stages as they come if they come. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your attorney may be able to prevent criminal charges from ever being filed.
What You Should Not Do
You have received a target letter from the federal government and you now know that you are a target in a federal criminal investigation, which may come as a shock to you. Just as important as knowing what you should do after receiving a target letter is knowing what you should not do. Anything you say and do from here on out can be used against you, and without an attorney on your side who can help you navigate the complexities of federal law and advise you on the best course of action for your unique situation, you could make a grievous mistake or slip up in a way that could severely harm your case. The following are some of the things you should not do after receiving a target letter from a federal prosecutor.
Don’t contact the prosecutor yourself.
If you get a target letter from a federal prosecutor, you may be tempted to contact the prosecutor yourself and proclaim your innocence or try to explain what happened. This is never a good idea. The primary goal of the prosecutor is to secure an indictment against you and whatever you say to him or her can be used against you. Federal prosecutors are trained to exploit situations like this and extract the information they need to support their case. We are of the universal opinion that talking to the prosecutor on your own without a lawyer present won’t do you any good and it could end up hurting your case. Once you have hired a lawyer, your lawyer can advise you on whether making a statement to the prosecutor or the agents investigating you would be in your best interest, and if so, set the ground rules for the meeting.
Don’t discuss the case with anyone but your attorney.
Not only should you not contact the prosecutor yourself, you should also avoid talking to anyone else about the target letter or the criminal investigation. Anything you say to another person can be used against you if that person is subpoenaed to testify at trial or before a grand jury, especially if that person is a potential witness in the case. In this case, the prosecutor may be able to accuse you of obstruction of justice or witness tampering, which are federal offenses.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1510, “Whoever willfully endeavors by means of bribery to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information relating to a violation of any criminal statute of the United States by any person to a criminal investigator” can be charged with obstruction of justice, which is punishable by a sentence of up to five years in prison. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1512, it is also a crime to “knowingly use intimidation, threaten, or corruptly persuade another person, or attempt to do so, or engage in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to —
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;
(2) cause or induce any person to—
(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding;
(B) alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding;
(C) evade legal process summoning that person to appear as a witness, or to produce a record, document, or other object, in an official proceeding; or
(D) be absent from an official proceeding to which such person has been summoned by legal process; or
(3) hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense or a violation of conditions of probation  supervised release,  parole, or release pending judicial proceedings.”
The punishment for obstructing justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1512 is a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Don’t destroy any evidence.
It is also a federal offense to destroy any evidence pertaining to a federal criminal investigation. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1512, any person who “corruptly (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,” can be charged with obstruction of justice, which carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Don’t automatically assume that you will be indicted.
Just because you have received a target letter doesn’t necessarily mean you will be indicted. Although the likelihood of an indictment is high, it largely depends on whether or not the prosecutor can gather enough evidence to get an indictment. Depending on the facts of your case, your lawyer may be able to persuade the prosecutor to close the investigation or reclassify you as a subject or witness. Or, if an indictment is likely, your attorney may be able to negotiate a pre-indictment plea agreement with the prosecutor. Prosecutors are generally more willing to negotiate with targets of criminal investigations who haven’t already been indicted, so this could be your chance to negotiate a reduced charge or lesser sentence and avoid a trial.
Our Aggressive Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
No matter what federal offense you are accused of committing if you receive a target letter from the government, you need a respected, trial-tested federal criminal defense attorney aggressively defending your rights and representing your best interests. When it comes to potentially being charged with a federal crime, it is never too early to protect your rights and begin strategizing a winning defense, and that is where our defense attorneys at Federal Criminal Defense Pro come in. For years, we have put our extensive skill and knowledge to work representing defendants across the United States in federal criminal cases, and with his experience as a former prosecutor, attorney Daniel R. Perlman brings a unique perspective to criminal defense that you can use to your advantage. If you are charged with a federal crime, choosing the right defense attorney to represent your case could mean the difference between walking away with your freedom intact and spending years, if not decades, in prison. Contact Federal Criminal Defense Pro today to schedule a no-cost consultation with our knowledgeable federal crimes attorneys.