If you have received a letter stating you are the focus of a grand jury investigation, then you have received a Target Letter. If this is the case, I hope this note provides you with general and helpful information for you to determine the best path forward. A sample target letter is provided here.
First, it is critical to determine your status in the investigation.
There are three “statuses” in a Federal Grand Jury investigation: Witness, Target and Subject.
Put simply, A “witness” is 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.
Contrarily, a “target” is a person as to whom 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.
A “subject” lies somewhere in-between “witness” and “target” status. A “subject” of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation. Said another way, a “subject” means you are not the prosecutor’s primary focus; however, as the investigation develops you could potentially face criminal exposure.
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.
Lastly, if you receive a target letter it is important to stay calm. Remember, this does not mean you have been indicted by a Grand Jury; only that you are being investigated by one. With that said, it is equally important to take the matter seriously but do not panic. You’ve probably heard the old adage “that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich for murdering a pig”; however, it is out of your control.
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. In the event you are indicted, preparing early will likely help you and your family avoid many unnecessary burdens. 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 or not to “race” to cooperate, but in this race, remember another adage – “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”