Federal Target Letter Explained

Understanding Federal Target Letters

In the complex world of federal investigations, one of the most critical documents you may encounter is a federal target letter. This letter serves as an official notification from a federal prosecutor that you are under investigation for a potential crime. The receipt of such a letter can be a daunting experience, filled with uncertainty and anxiety.

I am a Board Certified Criminal Lawyer who has defended every level of federal offense. In this article, I will lay out a comprehensive guide on federal target letters, helping you navigate this challenging situation with confidence and informed decision-making.

What is a Federal Target Letter?

A federal target letter is a formal correspondence issued by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal prosecutor, indicating that you are the ‘target’ of a federal criminal investigation.

There are generally three parts to a federal target letter: the nature of the investigation, a statement of your rights, and often an invitation to testify before the grand jury.

A target letter outlines the nature of the crime you’re suspected of, the rights you have, including the right to legal representation, and often an invitation to testify before a grand jury or speak to a prosecutor. It’s important to note that while a target letter is a serious matter, it is not an indictment or a guarantee of one. It is, however, a clear signal that you are significantly involved in a criminal investigation, and immediate action is necessary. It is also very clearly putting you on notice that you are a target, not merely a witness the grand jury wants to hear from. 

DOJ Guidance for a Target Letter
DOJ Guidance for a Target Letter

Types of Federal Target Letters

In the realm of federal investigations, there are two primary types of target letters that you might receive, each with distinct implications and originating from different federal entities.

The first type is a target letter from a federal prosecutor, typically from the U.S. Department of Justice. This letter signifies that you are the ‘target’ of a federal criminal investigation. In this context, being a ‘target’ means that there is substantial evidence linking you to a crime, and the prosecutor believes they could indict you based on this evidence. This letter often outlines the nature of the crime you’re suspected of, your rights, including the right to legal representation, and may include an invitation to testify before a grand jury.

The second type of target letter is issued directly by the grand jury. This letter serves a similar purpose in notifying you that you are the target of an ongoing investigation. However, it’s important to note that this letter is typically issued when the grand jury has already been convened and is actively investigating the alleged crime.

Regardless of the source, both types of target letters are serious notifications that require immediate attention and appropriate action. They provide crucial information about your status in an investigation and the potential legal risks you face.

What is happening with Donald Trump and his most recent target letter?

Former President Trump has received a target letter from the Special Counsel investigating the events of January 6th. The target letter informs him that he is the target of a criminal investigation and presumably invites him to appear before the grand jury.

This is the third target letter Trump has received, and he has previously refused to testify in similar cases. The investigation is focused on Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and the mishandling classified documents in Florida. Prosecutors are likely looking into potential allegations of obstruction of justice, defrauding the United States, or witness tampering.

What happens if you are invited to testify before the grand jury through the target letter?

If a target letter invites you to testify before a grand jury, it means that the grand jury is interested in hearing your side of the story or any information you might have that could be relevant to the investigation. This is a serious matter and should be approached with caution.

While you have the right to legal representation when dealing with a federal investigation, it’s important to note that the rules within a grand jury proceeding are different from a typical courtroom setting. Specifically, your attorney is not allowed in the grand jury room during your testimony. This is a unique aspect of the grand jury process designed to maintain the independence and integrity of the jury’s investigation.

However, even though your attorney can’t be present in the grand jury room, they still play a crucial role. Before you testify, your attorney can help prepare you for the types of questions you might be asked, advise you on your rights, and help you understand the potential implications of your testimony. Additionally, while you’re testifying, you have the right to step out of the grand jury room to consult with your attorney as needed.

Given the high stakes and the complexity of the grand jury process, it’s essential to have experienced legal counsel guiding you through each step if you receive a target letter and are asked to testify before a grand jury.

Why You Might Receive a Federal Target Letter

Receiving a federal target letter is typically a result of being implicated in a federal criminal investigation. This could be due to various reasons, such as being linked to a crime through evidence gathered during the investigation, being named by a witness or another party involved in the crime, or your involvement in activities that have attracted the attention of federal law enforcement. It’s important to note that the issuance of a target letter doesn’t mean you’ve been charged with a crime. Instead, it’s a notification that you are under investigation and could potentially be indicted based on the evidence at hand.

Why would someone get a target letter instead of just being arrested?

A target letter is often used as a tool by federal prosecutors or investigators through the grand jury when they believe they have substantial evidence linking an individual to a crime, but they may not yet have enough to secure an indictment, they may still be building their case, they want to give the appearance of fairness. The target letter serves as a formal notification to the individual that they are under investigation, and it can also serve as an invitation to engage in the legal process, potentially by testifying before a grand jury.

There are several reasons why a prosecutor might choose to send a target letter instead of immediately seeking an indictment and arrest:

Investigation Stage: The investigation may still be in progress, and the prosecutor may be gathering more evidence to strengthen their case before proceeding with an indictment.

Negotiation: The target letter can serve as a starting point for negotiations. In some cases, the individual might choose to cooperate with the investigation, provide valuable information, or even agree to a plea deal.

Legal Strategy: In some cases, it might be a strategic move on the part of the prosecutor. By notifying an individual that they are a target, the prosecutor might induce them to take certain actions, such as making statements or taking steps that could potentially provide additional evidence for the prosecution.

Rights and Fairness: The target letter also serves to inform the individual of their rights, including the right to legal representation. This is seen as a fair and transparent way to handle investigations, giving the individual an opportunity to engage with the process and seek legal counsel.

The Difference Between a Target Letter and an Indictment

While both a target letter and an indictment are significant in the context of a federal investigation, they serve different purposes and carry different implications. A target letter is a notification from a federal prosecutor or a grand jury that you are the ‘target’ of a federal criminal investigation. It means there is substantial evidence linking you to a crime, and the prosecutor believes they could indict you. However, a target letter is not an indictment. It does not charge you with a crime; instead, it informs you that you are under investigation and could potentially be indicted.

On the other hand, an indictment is a formal accusation that initiates a criminal case. It is issued by a grand jury after they have reviewed the prosecutor’s evidence and determined that there is enough to charge you with a crime. An indictment moves the process forward to the trial stage, whereas a target letter is part of the investigation stage. Understanding the difference between these two is crucial in navigating the legal process.

What Happens After You Receive a Target Letter

Receiving a federal target letter is a critical moment in a federal investigation. It signifies that you are under serious scrutiny and that the prosecutor believes they have substantial evidence linking you to a crime. The first thing you should do upon receiving a target letter is to seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can help you understand the implications of the letter, your rights, and the best course of action.

Your attorney can help you decide whether to cooperate with the investigation, which could include testifying before a grand jury. They can also begin preparing a defense strategy in case you are indicted. It’s important to remember that while a target letter is a serious matter, it is not an indictment. You have not been charged with a crime yet, and there are still many steps in the legal process where a skilled attorney can make a significant difference in your case. Your attorney may set up a proffer instead of testimony before the grand jury.

Does getting a target letter guarantee an indictment?

No, receiving a target letter does not guarantee that you will be indicted. A target letter is a formal notification that you are the subject of a criminal investigation, and there is substantial evidence linking you to a crime. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be formally charged or indicted. The investigation could conclude without charges, or it could result in charges that are different from what was initially suspected. The purpose of the target letter is to inform you of the investigation and to give you an opportunity to testify before a grand jury if you choose to do so.

Why most attornies will advise you not to testify before a federal grand jury under most circumstances

Testifying before a grand jury can be a high-risk situation for a number of reasons, and as such, many attorneys often advise against it. Here are a few reasons why:

No Attorney Presence: Unlike in a trial, your attorney is not allowed to be present in the grand jury room during your testimony. This means you won’t have immediate legal counsel to guide your responses or object to inappropriate questions.

Risk of Self-Incrimination: Without the immediate guidance of an attorney, there’s a risk that you might say something that could incriminate yourself, even unintentionally. Anything you say before a grand jury can be used against you in a subsequent trial.

One-sided Proceedings: Grand jury proceedings are typically one-sided. The prosecutor presents their case, and the defense does not have the same opportunity to present theirs. This imbalance can make it difficult for you to effectively tell your side of the story.

No Cross-Examination: Unlike a trial, there is no cross-examination of witnesses in a grand jury proceeding. This means that if you testify, your attorney will not have the opportunity to challenge or clarify the statements made by other witnesses.

Given these factors, many attorneys often advise their clients not to testify before a grand jury unless there are compelling reasons to do so. It’s a strategic decision that should be made in consultation with your attorney, considering the specifics of your case.

what to do if you get a federal target letter

What to Do If You Receive a Federal Target Letter

Receiving a federal target letter can be an alarming experience, but it’s crucial not to panic. The first step is to retain legal counsel immediately. An experienced attorney can help you understand the implications of the letter, advise you on the best course of action, and guide you through the subsequent legal process.

It’s important not to ignore the letter or delay responding. The target letter is a clear indication that you are under federal investigation, and any delay could potentially complicate your situation. Your attorney can help you craft a response, if necessary, and can also reach out to the prosecutor to gather more information about the investigation.

If the target letter includes an invitation to testify before a grand jury, your attorney will help you decide whether or not to accept. This decision should be made carefully, considering the potential risks and benefits. Remember, anything you say in front of the grand jury can be used against you in court.

Remember a federal target letter is a communication from a federal prosecutor to inform an individual that they are the target of a federal grand jury investigation. Being a target means the prosecutor intends to indict and charge the person with a federal crime. The letter is sent to prompt the person to either contact the prosecutor directly or consult with a lawyer who will communicate with the prosecutor on their behalf. It is also often an invitation to testify before the grand jury.

You should never call the prosecutor directly but instead, seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. We can provide counsel and guidance on how to respond to the letter appropriately.

Tips if You Receive a Federal Target Letter 

  1. Don’t contact federal agents or prosecutors about the case or testify in a grand jury without a lawyer: Federal agents and prosecutors are focused on building their case, not helping you. Anything you say to them can be used to strengthen their case, not yours.

  2. Don’t discuss the case with non-lawyers: Communications with non-lawyers are not protected by attorney-client privilege. Anything you say, even casual comments about making a mistake, could be used against you if the person you spoke to is called as a witness.

  3. Don’t alter or destroy evidence, or attempt to influence potential witnesses: Engaging in these activities constitutes separate crimes and will worsen your situation.

  4. If you receive a target letter, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. Once you’ve hired an attorney, you should be completely honest with them about all the facts of the case that you’re aware of.

How Varghese Summersett Can Help

At Varghese Summersett, we understand the gravity of receiving a federal target letter and the anxiety that comes with it. Our team of experienced attorneys is well-versed in federal investigations and can provide the guidance and representation you need during this challenging time.

We can help you understand the implications of the target letter, advise you on the best course of action, and represent your interests in any interactions with the prosecutor or the grand jury. If you choose to testify, we will prepare you thoroughly, ensuring you understand the process, the potential questions, and the legal implications of your testimony.

In the event that you are indicted, our team will be ready to mount a robust defense on your behalf. We will scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence, challenge any procedural errors, and work tirelessly to protect your rights and your reputation.

At Varghese Summersett, we believe in proactive, aggressive representation. We understand the stakes in federal investigations, and we are committed to providing the highest level of legal counsel to our clients.

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About the Author Board Certified Lawyer Benson Varghese

About the Author

Benson Varghese is the managing partner of Varghese Summersett. He is a seasoned attorney, highly esteemed for his comprehensive knowledge and expertise in the field. He has successfully handled thousands of state and federal cases, ranging from misdemeanor driving while intoxicated cases to capital offenses, showcasing his commitment to preserving justice and upholding the rights of his clients. His firm covers criminal defense, personal injury, and family law matters. Benson is also a legal tech entrepreneur. Benson is a go-to authority in the legal community, known for his ability to explain complex legal concepts with clarity and precision. His writings offer a wealth of in-depth legal insights, reflecting his extensive experience and his passion for the law. Not only is Benson an accomplished litigator, but he is also a dedicated advocate for his clients, consistently striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for them. His authorship provides readers with valuable legal advice and an understanding of the complexities of the criminal justice system. CriminalPersonal InjuryFamily Law Contact