What Should I do if I Received a Target Letter or Grand Jury Subpoena?

If you have received a letter saying that you are either the target or a subject of a grand jury investigation, then you have received a target letter or grand jury subpoena. This letter is a clear sign that a federal criminal investigation is in progress and you are a target or subject of that investigation. It is important to understand what document you are looking at and what is legally required of you, but no matter the case, you should seek legal representation immediately before doing anything or speaking with anybody.

grand jury in session, with witness called by grand jury subpoena or target letter

What is a Target Letter?

A target letter, such as this sample letter, is a notification that you are under investigation for having committed a federal offense. They usually advise you of your right to a lawyer and your right to remain silent throughout the course of the government’s investigation. If you receive a target letter, you are at risk of being indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with a crime.

What is a Grand Jury Subpoena?

A grand jury subpoena is a document issued by the United States Attorney’s Office which compels you to testify before a grand jury. Even if the subpoena suggests the government merely needs your testimony as a potential witness to a crime, you still need to consult with a lawyer. The Government uses the federal grand jury process not only to charge people with crimes, but also as an investigative tool. In fact, if the government believes you have committed a crime but they do not have enough evidence to formally indict you, they may compel you to testify before a grand jury in a related case in hopes of collecting more evidence against you.

What am I Being Investigated For?

Anybody called into a federal grand jury investigation will belong to one of the three following statuses:

  • Witness: someone that the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) believes has not committed any crime but has information helpful towards their investigation. This is by far the best place to be in a federal investigation.
  • Target: a person that 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 future defendant.
  • Subject: this status lies somewhere in-between “witness” and “target”. A “subject” of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation but is not the prosecutor’s primary focus. However, as the investigation develops a subject could potentially face criminal

It is important to note that federal investigations are fluid and your status could change throughout the investigation. With that said, determining your status will assist you and your lawyer on whether to cooperate with law enforcement. For example, if you are a “witness,” your criminal exposure is very low and cooperating with law enforcement may be your best option. On the other hand, if you are a “subject” or “target” of the investigation, this decision will be more difficult and will depend on the specific facts surrounding your involvement.

Regardless of your status, you should contact an attorney, and perhaps, have your attorney begin communicating with the prosecutors. Many times, this is somewhat of a race, and typically individuals who cooperate first tend to have better outcomes than those who wait.

How do I Navigate a Federal Grand Jury?

Federal grand jury proceedings are operated in secret. There is no judge present to oversee the process and defense attorneys are not allowed inside. Even though defense counsel cannot be in the proceedings with you, your lawyer can wait outside the grand jury room for you. You will then be able to step outside the proceedings and consult with your lawyer if you have questions about the process or need advising. It is crucial to consult with a lawyer before being compelled to testify in grand jury proceedings, so you know what to expect and how to assert your Fifth Amendment rights.

So, instead of letting it throw you into disarray, you should begin planning early. This may include informing family members and getting your affairs in order. An attorney can help you during this phase of the investigation and make recommendations based on the circumstances of your case. Your attorney can help you decide whether to “race” to cooperate, but in this race, remember another adage – “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

Give us a call today to learn more about your rights and obligations if you or a loved one has been served with a target letter or federal grand jury subpoena.

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