Target Letters from Federal Law Enforcement

Target letters from federal law enforcement are not common, but they are issued by federal prosecutors under certain circumstances. If you or your family member receives a target letter, then the best step to take is to contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney near you. While this blog post will provide you with some general information, you need to get specific legal advice and counsel from a professional criminal defense lawyer who has years of experience defending people accused of a federal crime. 



What Is a Target Letter? 


A target letter is a letter sent by a federal prosecutor notifying someone that a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice believes the government “has substantial evidence linking [them] to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a [likely] defendant.” 


A target letter is typically used if someone the prosecutor believes should be indicted by a grand jury is subpoenaed or scheduled to testify before the grand jury. The Department of Justice follows a policy of notifying those it deems to be targets of a grand jury that they have the right not to testify at the grand jury that’s considering indicting them. The DOJ may also issue a target letter to a suspect when the case against them is less than strong because the suspect may wish to take the opportunity to testify before the grand jury to avert an indictment. 


The standard target letter includes more information than a mere statement regarding the recipient’s status. The government also instructs them that they could be obstructing justice if they destroy evidence or attempt to influence other witnesses.  


Learn More> What to Do if You Receive a Target Letter from the FBI 


Does Every Person Under Investigation Get a Target Letter? 


Target letters are often issued to people suspected of involvement in white-collar crimes and non-violent offenses. When the DOJ’s investigation produced strong evidence against a suspect, the suspect is not asked to testify or notified of their opportunity to do so before the grand jury issues an indictment or the government charges them with the crime before the indictment. As a result, no target letter is typically issued to the suspect. 


Federal investigators and prosecutors will not issue target letters when the suspect may use the advance notice to flee, destroy evidence, or interfere with witnesses.  


There is no requirement in law or DOJ policy that a criminal suspect be notified that they are under investigation unless they may be called to testify in front of the grand jury.  


The law does not require prosecutors to alert a person that they are no longer targets or that the investigation in which they were involved has ended.  


Why Did You Get a Target Letter? 


The target letter from the Justice Department indicates that you are under investigation by the federal government and that sufficient evidence persuades them that you may be guilty of a crime.  


But federal prosecutors have several reasons to issue target letters, even when DOJ policy does not call for a suspect to be notified by letter. During some criminal investigations, federal law enforcement officers intentionally use the issuance of a target letter as a means of provoking a suspect’s reaction.  


In some cases, a minor participant in a suspected conspiracy might be sent a target letter to drive them to act in some way that generates evidence. For example, prosecutors may wish to have the suspect contact a criminal defense lawyer who will open a line of communication with the feds. The lawyer will be able to assess the client’s position in light of some of the evidence the government shared with them. Prosecutors and investigators may hope that the client’s potential cooperation will benefit the government and change the client’s status from target to merely a government witness. The newly acquired witness testimony may strengthen the government’s case against others who were more active in the conspiracy.  


Does Getting a Federal Target Letter Mean You Will You Be Indicted? 


No, receiving a target letter does not mean an indictment is inevitable. By hiring an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as you receive a target letter, you enable your lawyer to begin the work of investigating the evidence and to decide if contacting the prosecutors would be to your advantage. 


When an experienced criminal defense lawyer is aware of the evidence and the intentions of the prosecution, then they are best equipped to inform their client about the available options and counsel the client about the most promising defense strategies.  


The best approach to defend some clients will include strongly contesting the allegations through a full jury trial. In other cases, the client’s interests may be best protected by exploring opportunities to cooperate with the government or to negotiate an early preindictment plea agreement. In some instances, approaching a prosecutor before they invest many hours of work can result in a very lenient disposition for the client. 


Learn More> White-Collar Investigations: Subject, Target, or Witness  


Benefits of Contacting a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately 


Everyone who receives a federal target letter should contact a qualified federal defense attorney immediately. Regardless of the facts of the case, whether the government’s evidence is weak or strong, whether the person targeted is involved in illegal activity or entirely innocent, the services of a skilled federal defense lawyer are essential. 


Target letters are issued before indictments. That means that there is time for an experienced defense attorney to examine the legal landscape and to carefully assess the safest and most beneficial tactics that may produce the best outcome for their client. 


Progress for the defense may be achieved by the defense lawyer’s sharing exculpatory evidence with the prosecutor contradicting the government’s less reliable evidence. Witnesses unknown to the prosecution might be identified, and the client’s personal history, medical condition, or family relationships may mitigate their perceived culpability in the prosecutor’s eyes.  


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we assess every client’s circumstances individually and use our own prosecutorial experience and years of courtroom experience representing criminal defendants to construct our client’s best defense. Call us today for a case review at 813-280-1244.  

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