White-Collar Investigations: Subject, Target, or Witness

Federal criminal investigations can affect many people. It can be distressing when receiving a subpoena to testify before a grand jury or have a visit from federal agents. It’s important to note that not all who are interviewed by agents are suspected of unlawful activity. And not all who testify before a grand jury are eventually indicted.  

Typically, simply asking where an executive stands in an investigation will receive one of the following responses: 

  1. A witness 
  1. A subject 
  1. A target  

How you are classified during an investigation may determine how you and your defense attorney will respond to agents and prosecutors. If you or a loved one is involved with an open investigation or have been notified that you’re a target of an investigation, speak with an experienced federal lawyer about your unique circumstances.  

Who is Considered a Witness? 

A witness is a person who may have information the government believes may be important to its investigation. This doesn’t necessarily mean this executive observed a crime take place. 

Prosecutors typically do not believe a witness has committed a crime. A witness typically works with investigators or testifies before a grand jury as the risk of criminal liability is considered low. 

What is the Definition of a Target? 

As opposed to a witness, a target is someone the government believes there to be substantial evidence showing they have committed a crime.  

A target is usually not named until prosecutors are ready to bring criminal charges. An executive identified as a target is more likely to refuse to cooperate with investigators and assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

What is a Subject? 

Sitting in between a witness and a target is the subject. Typically, the government deems the subject’s behavior suspicious, and there is a risk the subject has engaged in at least one illegal activity.  

According to a federal prosecutor, a subject is someone whose conduct is within the scope of a grand jury’s investigation.  

Prosecutors are not required by law to divulge 

what classification someone has within an investigation. 

What These Classifications Mean During an Investigation  

The classifications of witness, target, and subject are fluid; they can change at any time. These classifications simply signify the government’s point of view of a certain person at a certain moment based on their available information and evidence. 

Prosecutors are not required by law to divulge what classification someone has within an investigation. The Department of Justice policy, however, requires that prosecutors inform subjects or targets of their rights if they are called to testify before a grand jury. Additionally, if an individual is classified as a target of a federal investigation, prosecutors may notify you through a “target letter” and the opportunity to testify before a grand jury before seeking out an indictment. 

Under Investigation? Seek Experienced Defense Counsel 

Anyone charged with a federal crime may face severe penalties, including a lengthy prison sentence and significant fines. Stechschulte Nell will work persistently as your legal advocate.  

Tampa criminal defense lawyer, Ben Stechschulte, is a board-certified Federal criminal trial law attorney, a distinction only 2% of all Florida attorneys have achieved. His significant experience defending clients in federal courts aids in protecting your rights and developing a strong defense. Contact us today for a review of your case with our legal team. 

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