I Received a Target Letter, Now What?

Did you get a piece of mail you would rather not have received?  Did an Assistant United States Attorney send you a letter informing you of some impending doom on the horizon?  If you received a target letter from federal law enforcement, it’s quite possible that you are feeling scared and anxious right now.  Don’t worry, it is perfectly normal to feel frightened and frustrated after receiving a target letter. All my clients feel that way at first.  

If you are reading this because either you or a loved one has received a target letter from a federal prosecutor, you’ve come to the right place.  The information below will educate you and help you get started.  If you’d like to discuss the target letter, the status of the investigation and what your options are, you can fill out our contact form or give us a call at (305) 707-7345 to schedule your 4-Point Case Evaluation and Defense Strategy Session.

What is a Target Letter?

A target letter is commonly used in white collar cases and it is a way for the federal government to notify you that you are a target of a criminal investigation.  A target is defined by the United States Attorney’s Office as someone against whom there is substantial evidence. 

The target letter informs you of not only your status in a federal criminal investigation, but also of the crimes you are suspected of committing.  In addition, it will likely inform you of your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as well as information about having counsel appointed if you cannot afford to hire an attorney.

What is a “Target”?

Being a target in a federal investigation is the worst place to be.  If you are a target that means the federal government is looking into you as the person that committed the crime(s) they are investigating.  During a criminal investigation the federal government classifies people into three categories: witness, subject and target.

Will I be Indicted?

Not necessarily.  Please note that while the likelihood of an indictment is high, it is not inevitable.  There are instances where a prosecutor is not able to gather enough evidence in order to indict you.  In some cases it is possible that your lawyer may be able to persuade the prosecutor to change course and close an investigation or reclassify you as either a witness or a subject.  Please note that this is possible but it also depends on the unique circumstances of each case.

If the government is locked in on you and they feel as though sufficient evidence exists against you, a target letter could be a way to get you to negotiate a plea now in order to resolve your case so that you can avoid being indicted.  If this is the case, once your lawyer obtains information from the Assistant United States Attorney the two of you can discuss the benefits of entering discussions to resolve your case. 

At this point you will consider what the government is offering (usually fewer counts or charges that are less severe) and weigh your options as well as determine the likelihood of being convicted if your case goes to trial.  If you decide to waive indictment and agree to be charged by information it is likely that you have decided to plea as you feel (after discussing it with your lawyer) that it is in your best interest to do so and you can likely save yourself some time by minimizing your exposure when it comes to sentencing.  Should you decide not the plea, it is likely the government will file charges. 

What Should I do if I Receive a Target Letter?

If you’re reading this, it is apparent that you realize an attorney is necessary at this point.  You should be commended as you have likely taken steps to make that happen.  Perhaps you are still trying to make sense of everything as far how to hire a lawyer. Now that we got that out of the way, here’s some guidance on what you should be doing as you are waiting to make your decision as to who you should hire. 

Do NOT speak to, write, text or message anyone other than an attorney about the investigation.  The reason for needing an attorney when you are under investigation should be obvious: to protect yourself from saying something that can later be used against you.  For example:

  • If you happen so speak with someone about your investigation and that person is ultimately interviewed by federal agents, what you said can get back to the agents and used against you.  Even worse is the scenario that may play out should the person you are speaking with has already agreed to cooperate with the federal government is working with them.
  • Not only could anything you say be used against you, but it can also be misconstrued to imply that you were attempting to influence that witness’ testimony or cover up facts which could lead to obstruction of justice charges and/or enhancements.

Your attorney will serve as a shield for you so that you do not have to speak with federal agents and the federal prosecutor.  This avoids the possibility of complicating matters and making your situation worse.  Your attorney will also be able to gather information from federal prosecutors in order to counsel and advise you as to what you are facing and what the next steps may look like.  Lastly, your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor in order to secure a more favorable outcome for you.

Once your lawyer has become familiar with the facts and circumstances of your case, the two of you can determine what the best course of action is.  Your attorney can answer questions as to whether you should even meet with federal prosecutors or agents for an interview or if you should cooperate with them as that is what’s in your best interest.    

The choices you’ll encounter as the result of a federal investigation are rarely straightforward or obvious.  Federal prosecutors will put immense pressure on you in order to get what they want. The decision to cooperate is a difficult one.  It is best to make this decision with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney that will protect your interests throughout the entire process.

If you are here today because you feel frustrated about receiving a target letter 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