Target Letters

Federal Target Letters

You may envision a criminal investigation as something that happens in secret, without the knowledge of the person being investigated. That is often the case. Target letters in federal investigations are a different avenue that may be used.

However, there are times when detectives and prosecutors go right out and tell a person that they are
the target of a criminal investigation. It happens frequently in white-collar criminal investigations. The authorities do this through a target letter.

If you or a loved one have received a target letter from a U.S. Attorney’s Office, or some
other federal investigative agency, then you need to make sure that you obtain the
services of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you. Receiving a target
letter is not something to take lightly.

While there are opportunities to avoid a criminal indictment even after you have been
told that you are the target of a federal investigation, the likelihood that you could be the subject of a federal indictment are high. That is why you need a lawyer in your corner to defend you as soon as possible.

Accordingly, we welcome you to contact the Law Office of Jeremy Gordon. Schedule a free phone consultation today.

Here we will discuss some of the most pressing questions you likely have upon
receiving a target letter. Remember, there are a number of options you have upon
receipt of a target letter, so be sure to consult with an experienced attorney in order to make decisions based on sound legal advice.

What Is a Target Letter?

When a federal prosecutor believes that you have committed a crime, he or she can send you a target letter. As the name suggests, the target letter is a form letter
essentially notifying you that you are the main focus of a criminal investigation. It is
possible that you may already be aware of an investigation against you because federal
agents may have tried to question you, or the letter may come as a surprise. Either
way, it is something to be taken seriously.

The term “target” has a specific definition in this context. A “target” is considered a potential criminal defendant because there exists substantial evidence indicating that he
or she committed a crime. Target letters are most often used in white collar criminal

Target Letter Components

A target letter normally notifies you of certain things, including:

  • The fact that you are the focus of a federal grand jury investigation;
  • The crime or crimes for which you may be accused;
  • Your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent; and
  • Information about getting the assistance of court-appointed counsel.
  • The target letter may also inform you about your obligation not to destroy any evidence,
    such as financial documents or other relevant information, because such destruction
    could be viewed as obstruction of justice.
  • The letter may also suggest that you reach out to the prosecutor to discuss the case.

If I Receive a Target Letter, What Should I Do?

In order to get the best outcome after receiving a target letter, you need to hire a good, experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The earlier you obtain sound legal advice in response to a target letter, the better your chances are that you can minimize your criminal exposure.

First and foremost, an attorney may be able to help you convince the prosecutor
involved that he or she should drop the investigation against you. However, even if the
government is going to move forward with a criminal indictment, a defense attorney will be able to obtain information and perhaps negotiated a pre-indictment agreement to resolve the case.

It is always better to engage with a prosecutor early in a case, when he or she has not spent significant time on the matter, because there is typically more room for negotiations.

Should I Talk to Federal Investigators?

No. You should not speak with investigating agents until you have spoken to an attorney first. If you decide to speak to the investigators, you should only do so with your lawyer present.

Without question, you will be tempted to reach out to the prosecutor, or investigators
upon receiving the target letter in the hopes of explaining why any criminal accusation is simply a mistake or misunderstanding. Do not give in to that temptation. Federal investigators, like virtually all law enforcement officers, have ways of getting people to give up information, and all of your statements can be used against you.

Of course, after you have consulted with your attorney, you both might come to the
conclusion that speaking with investigators will be advantageous. Perhaps you can negotiate for immunity.  Perhaps you can provide additional information that is helpful to further the investigation. You should only make that determination, however, after determining that such an approach would be beneficial for you.

Do I Have to Cooperate If I Receive a Target Letter?

You are no necessarily required to cooperate with an investigation. However, you might benefit from providing cooperation. A seasoned criminal defense attorney will be able to guide you as to what options you have with regard to cooperation. Normally, you will want to assess your chances of success at trial before deciding that cooperation is the best route for you.

Are Prosecutors Required to Send Target Letters?

Federal prosecutors are not required to send target letters to those who are the main
focus of a criminal investigation. Typically, target letters are not used because investigators do not want to provide an incentive for those suspected of criminal conduct to obstruct the investigation or try to flee the country.

However, sometimes a letter is used if a prosecutor wants to explore pre-indictment or pre-trial options to resolve the

Does a Target Letter Mean That I Will Be Indicted?

Not necessarily. While getting a target letter means that there is a high likelihood that you may be indicted, there is still a chance that you will not be indicted.

Indeed, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you respond to the letter and negotiate a resolution with the prosecutor that does not involve an indictment.

Can I Make a Motion to Remove or Dismiss a Target Letter?

No. Because a target letter is something that comes directly from a prosecutor and is
not filed in court, a federal judge has no authority to take any action with regard to a
target letter. Therefore, making a motion in court will have no impact on a target letter.

Further, a target letter is simply giving notice, so the idea of trying to dismiss one is not consistent with the intent of the letter in the first place.

The key here is not the letter itself but having an attorney help get you removed as a target of the government’s investigation.

Is There a Chance, After Further Investigation, That I Could No
Longer Be a Target?

Yes. If you and your attorney are able to negotiate with the prosecutor such that it
becomes clear that you should not be the target of an investigation, then a prosecutor may decide to remove you as a target. That said, a prosecutor has no obligation to notify you that you are no longer a target, so you could have your attorney inquire as to your status in an investigation. Yet, when it comes to a federal investigation, the less you interact with the prosecutor the better.  Unless you have chosen to have direct
negotiations with the prosecutor in which you would resolve the matter against you directly. 

What Should I Look for In an Attorney When I Receive a Target

If you received a target letter from a federal prosecutor, then you need to hire an attorney who is experienced in federal criminal cases. Let the

help you with your federal fraud case.