Received a target letter from federal law enforcement?

Have you or someone you know received a target letter from federal law enforcement? If so, some of the information in this publication may be helpful to you. It is not a substitute for legal advice or an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but it is a good start.

1. What is a target letter?

A target letter is the means by which the federal government informs individuals that they are targets for criminal prosecution. According to the United States Attorney’s Manual, a “target” is a person against whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant.

2. If I received a target letter, does that mean I will definitely be indicted?

No. Targets are in serious danger of being indicted, but it is not inevitable. Prosecutors are not always able to gather sufficient evidence to indict their targets. In some cases, it may be possible, with the assistance of an attorney, to persuade the prosecution to close an investigation of a target or to reclassify the target as a witness. Whether this is possible depends upon the specific facts of your case.

3. Is it OK to talk to the agents investigating me?

No. It may be tempting to contact the investigating agents to obtain information or explain your involvement to them, but this is a mistake. Your statements can be used against you, and the agents have received extensive training on how to exploit this situation. Only communicate with the government through your attorney.

4. Is it OK to talk to other person(s) connected to the investigation?

No. As with conversations with agents, your conversations with other people can be used against you if those individuals are subpoenaed at trial or before the grand jury. In addition, even if your motives in speaking to those people are entirely innocent, the government may later accuse you of attempting to obstruct justice.

5. Should I cooperate with the government?

Possibly. This is a central question for many people targeted by the federal government, and the answer depends on the specific facts of the case. An experienced federal criminal lawyer can help you weigh such factors as your chances of winning at trial, your probable sentence if you lose at trial, and the advantages of cooperating with the government. You should not cooperate until these and other aspects of your case have been carefully examined.

6. What else should I be aware of?

You should be aware of the law enforcement techniques the government is using or may use to investigate you. The federal government has vast investigative powers such as the power to tap your phone or search your home or place of business. It is also possible that people you know may be working as informants for the government without your knowledge.

7. How should I go about hiring a lawyer?

You should hire a lawyer who has significant experience defending federal criminal cases. Although it may be tempting to reach out to a trusted attorney who handled your divorce or real estate closing, this is usually a mistake. That person may be an excellent lawyer, but his or her lack of experience in federal investigations will hurt your case. Consult an experienced federal criminal lawyer immediately.


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