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What to Do if You Receive a Target Letter From the Federal Government


When informing someone that they’re the target of a federal investigation, the government has several options — one of which is sending a target letter.

What is a Target Letter?

A target letter is a written document that tells the recipient he or she needs to perform an action, such as testify before a grand jury or meet with an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

As its name suggests, a target letter lets the recipient know that a federal agent has reason to believe he or she has committed a crime and therefore is the target of an investigation. If you receive a target letter, you are not being charged with anything or under arrest. However, it’s often an indication that the government will likely follow up with a civil or criminal charge.

Target letters can be sent out at various stages of an ongoing investigation. Sometimes, they’re a formality and the target is already aware of the potential charges he or she is facing. Other times, a target letter is the very first indication to someone that charges may soon be filed against them.

Target letters are sent by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) or an agency related to the conduct being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices.

What’s Included in a Target Letter?

Target letters are typically short, however, they contain important information regarding:

  • The nature of the alleged crime that was committed.
  • The federal statutes alleged to have been violated.
  • Constitutional rights of the recipient.
  • Important deadlines or dates the recipient must be aware of.

What to Do After Receiving a Target Letter

Target letters should be taken very seriously, as they signify you may soon be facing civil or criminal charges. Immediately after opening a target letter, you should:

  • Reach out to a criminal defense attorney in your area. You do not have to wait until charges are filed against you in order to obtain legal representation. The best time to hire a defense attorney is the moment you learn you’re under investigation. As a team well-versed in federal proceedings, the attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC can explain what steps you can expect to be taken next, gather information about your case, and begin preparing your defense.
  • Write down notable dates and information. As mentioned, target letters often contain important dates and deadlines which can not be missed. They may also include information/documents you need to bring to meetings or before the grand jury.
  • Do not panic and destroy potential evidence. Target letters often include a warning against destroying or altering documents that may be relevant to the grand jury’s investigation. If you delete electronic files or destroy physical evidence, you could face additional criminal charges.
  • Do not speak about the status of your case. The only person you should speak with regarding your case is your attorney because those conversations are privileged (a.k.a. confidential). Though family and friends often have good intentions, you should not speak with them about your case in any way (in person, over the phone, through email, etc.).
  • Ask any questions you have. Many people have never received or even heard of a target letter before, so it’s not uncommon to have questions. This can be a very confusing time, so you should always feel comfortable asking questions and relying on your attorney’s guidance.

As we stated, prosecutors have many options at their disposal if they want to inform someone about an ongoing investigation, including sending a federal subpoena, sending federal agents to interview the target, executing a search warrant, or arresting someone without warning.

If you were sent a target letter, this could mean that the government would prefer for you to come in, with your attorney, and cooperate.

As a former federal prosecutor, criminal court judge, and U.S. Marine Corps officer, Patrick McLainknows what you are up against and what it takes to win a fight. Contact us online or at (214) 238-9392 to schedule a consultation with our accomplished Dallas federal criminal defense lawyers.

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