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State and Federal Criminal Defense Representation

What is a Target Letter?


Have You Received a Target Letter?

If you receive a “target letter” from federal law enforcement – from the U.S. Department of Justice or from any other office or agency of the federal government – you must be advised by an Orange County federal defense lawyer, and you must contact that lawyer at once.

What is a target letter? What are your rights if you receive a target letter, and what steps will you need to take? How will a federal criminal defense lawyer help you? Keep reading this brief discussion of target letters and your rights for the answers you may need.

What is a Target Letter?

A target letter is one way that the federal government tells people that they may be targets of a federal criminal prosecution. In other words, if you receive a target letter, it is because the federal government believes that you have committed a crime.

Target letters are typically used in the investigations of white-collar crimes such as fraud or embezzlement. A target letter may arrive after you have been questioned by federal investigators, or you may receive it unexpectedly, and it may be the first sign that you are under investigation.

If you learn that you are the target of a federal criminal investigation, don’t panic, but contact a federal criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible. The right defense attorney, after advising you of your rights, will take the appropriate legal action on your behalf.

What Will a Target Letter Tell You?

If you receive a target letter from the federal government, it will include the following information:

  1.  your status as the target of a federal criminal investigation
  2.  the crime or crimes you have allegedly committed
  3.  your right to remain silent and avoid possible self-incrimination

Target letters typically include a warning that destroying evidence may constitute the obstruction of justice. Recipients of target letters are usually invited to “speak with” federal investigators or prosecutors to “discuss” the case.

How Should You Respond to a Target Letter?

Exercise your right to remain silent and do not “speak with” or “discuss” your case with federal investigators, a federal prosecutor, or with anyone other than your federal criminal defense attorney.

You should understand that federal investigators and prosecutors have substantial legal power to conduct comprehensive criminal investigations. Your phone could be tapped. Your home or business could be searched. People you know may be providing information to investigators.

Do not try to hide or destroy anything that might be evidence in the federal investigation, or your status could quickly change from “target” to “criminal defendant.”

Do Target Letters Always Precede Indictments?

The federal government has no legal obligation to send target letters, and target letters are rarely used outside of white-collar crime investigations. Most people who are indicted by a federal grand jury never receive a target letter.

But if you do receive a target letter, you will probably – although not necessarily – be indicted on one or more federal charges. It will depend on the details and the results of the investigation.

If you contact an Orange County federal criminal attorney as soon as you receive a target letter, your attorney will try to persuade the government to drop its investigation or to move the focus of that investigation away from you – before a grand jury is convened.

What Happens After You Receive a Target Letter?

It sometimes takes several years for the federal government to conduct and close a criminal investigation. If you receive a target letter, you could be swiftly indicted, indicted several years later, or not indicted and – eventually – no longer considered the target of an investigation.

Adding to the confusion, the federal government may or may not notify you if you are no longer a target, but if you are not notified, it is probably better not to ask. Remember, anything that you say to any federal law enforcement investigator or prosecutor could be used against you.

What Steps Should You Take?

In Southern California, contact an Orange County federal defense lawyer immediately if you receive a target letter. In most of these cases, if your lawyer cannot persuade the government to close or re-focus its investigation, your lawyer will negotiate for an acceptable plea agreement.

However, if you have not committed any crime, and if you are wrongly indicted on federal criminal charges, you have the right to a trial by jury. In a criminal trial, your defense attorney will explain to a jury why you are innocent and why that jury should return a not guilty verdict.

Before you make any final decision about pleading guilty or not guilty, accepting a plea deal, cooperating with the government, or exercising your right to a jury trial, discuss all of your options with your attorney, and listen closely to your attorney’s advice and recommendations.

What Else Should You Know About Target Letters?

Do not discuss a target letter from the federal government – or the investigation that has prompted it – with anyone other than your defense attorney. Your words could be misconstrued, and your discussions with anyone – not just federal investigators – could be used against you.

target letter discussion

If you feel obligated to share some kind of information with your spouse or with your employer, ask your defense lawyer for specific advice about the best way to deal with your personal circumstances.

What Is Important to Remember?

In Southern California, contact a federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after you receive a target letter, and your attorney will:

  1.  contact the federal government to obtain information about the investigation
  2.  advise you regarding all of your legal rights and options
  3.  protect your rights throughout the investigation and any subsequent prosecution
  4.  negotiate for the best possible conclusion to the investigation
  5.  if appropriate, negotiate for immunity from prosecution in return for your cooperation
  6.  seek a not guilty verdict if your case goes to trial

If you are indicted by a federal grand jury, your freedom and your future will be at stake. You will need to be represented by an Orange County federal criminal attorney who has substantial trial experience in the federal courts and a record of success on behalf of clients.

Target letters are serious. If you have received one, or if you receive a target letter in the future, you could be indicted, convicted, and ordered to serve time in a federal prison, so you must seek aggressive, effective legal help immediately.

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