Target, Subject and Witness, what does it all mean?

One of things of incredible importance when you are under federal criminal investigation is your status in the investigation.  The federal government classifies people in three ways: Targets, Witnesses and Subjects.

Let’s talk about the different statuses and what each means for you.

  • Target – The status you most have to worry about is that of the ‘target’.  This means that the prosecution has its sights set on you as the target of the investigation.  If the prosecutor feels as though a crime was committed and you are the person they feel committed the crime, they will work their investigation with the primary objective of being to build a case against you.
  • Witness – The witness in a federal investigation typically has very little exposure to facing formal charges.  Being a witness is the preferred place to be if you must be enveloped in a federal investigation in the first place.  Federal prosecutors may believe that you have information that can help them.  You may have seen something take place or you may have documents relating to their case that can help them.
  • Subject – This status falls in-between the previously discussed statuses of a witness or target.  Being a subject is delicate because, while prosecutors may not be gunning for you, your status as a subject likely means that you may have done something wrong in their eyes.   

If you are under federal investigation, it is important to keep in mind that your status during the course of the investigation may change. As the government investigates its case and gathers evidence you can move from a witness to a subject or from a subject to a target, or even move downward from a target to a subject or subject to a witness.

Anyone involved in a federal investigation will be well-served by contacting a federal criminal defense lawyer to help protect their interests.  Your lawyer can reach out to the prosecutor and gather information about your status in the investigation and possibly what conduct they are looking into.  It is helpful to know, especially at the beginning, how the government has classified you.

Learning where you stand can provide some peace of mind.  However, it is important to remember that an investigation is fluid and that your status may change.  An attorney may be able to ensure that your status stays where it is if that is favorable to you and can also work with the prosecutor to convince them that you should not be a target or a subject but merely a witness.

If you are here today because you feel frustrated about being caught up in a federal investigation and it is disrupting your life, we should talk.  Set up a free 4-Point Case Evaluation and Defense Strategy Session with me by first calling (305) 707-7345.  The sooner we talk, the sooner you will have clarity on what you face—and just a little clarity can take away a lot of the stress.

Daniel Izquierdo
Criminal Defense Attorney