NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 18th September 2023, 05:36 pm
Receiving a Target Letter: What to Expect and How to Respond
Getting a target letter from federal prosecutors can make your stomach drop. I know the feeling – it’s like getting called to the principal’s office times a thousand. But try not to panic. With some deep breaths and the help of an experienced attorney, you can get through this.
In this article, I’ll walk through what a target letter is, your options for responding, the pros and cons of a proffer session, and how to advocate for yourself while protecting your rights. I’ll also share some stories from my own experience as a federal defense lawyer to shed some light on how this process really goes down.
What Exactly is a Target Letter?
A target letter is a notification from the U.S. Attorney’s Office letting you know you’re under criminal investigation and could face charges . It don’t mean you’re definitely getting indicted, but it does mean prosecutors have focused in on you as someone they might file charges against.
These letters are often sent after a grand jury investigation has been underway for a while. The goal is to shake loose more information that can help the government build its case. The letter will usually say something like “you are a target of an investigation” or “the government is considering seeking an indictment.” Scary stuff for sure!
You’ve Got Options for Responding
When that target letter shows up in your mailbox, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and anxious. But don’t spiral! There are a few options for how to respond:
- You can invoke your 5th Amendment right to remain silent. You’re not required to talk to investigators or testify to the grand jury.
- You can voluntarily meet with prosecutors and investigators to tell your side of the story.
- You can let your defense attorney interact with the government on your behalf.
- You can explore a proffer session where you provide information in exchange for possible immunity.
Every case is different, so think through the pros and cons of each approach with your lawyer. They’ll help assess which strategy gives you the most leverage.
How a Proffer Session Could Help…or Hurt You
One option on the table may be a “proffer session” where you sit down with the prosecution team and provide information about the investigation. I’ve seen these go both ways – sometimes they help secure a dismissal, but other times they tank the whole case.
The upside is you get to tell your side of the story and possibly negotiate charging concessions or immunity. I once had a client avoid indictment altogether by convincing prosecutors in a proffer session that he had been clueless about the criminal activity .
But there are also huge risks to watch out for. Anything you say can be used against you if no deal is reached. And experienced agents may trick you into admitting things you shouldn’t. I’ll never forget the proffer session where my client didn’t realize his “hypothetical” scenarios actually described crimes!
Should You Consider a Proffer Session?
Every case has unique factors to weigh. In general, a proffer may make sense if:
- The government’s evidence seems flimsy.
- You have limited criminal exposure.
- You have valuable information to exchange.
- The charges carry high mandatory minimums.
But if you’re facing serious charges or have little to offer prosecutors, the risks probably aren’t worth it. Talk it through in depth with your lawyer before deciding.
How to Prepare for a Proffer
If you do proffer, take time to get ready. Thoroughly review the facts and documents. Make timelines and outlines. Practice answering likely questions. And know the proffer agreement terms inside out.
I once prepped a client for over 20 hours before his session! But it paid off – he avoided charges because we anticipated exactly what agents would ask.
What to Expect During the Proffer
Expect a conference room, the prosecutors and agents, and lots of pointed questions. They’ll press you on anything that sounds suspicious or incomplete. It can feel intimidating, but having your lawyer there will help.
No matter the pressure, only provide information you know for certain. Stick to the facts and don’t speculate. And decline to answer if a question seems inappropriate – that’s your right!
Possible Outcomes After the Proffer
Once you’ve proffered, prosecutors will evaluate your statement and decide next steps. Here’s what could happen:
- They decline to prosecute if you convince them you had minimal involvement.
- They offer a plea deal with lesser charges if you provide substantial cooperation.
- They move forward with charges if they don’t find you credible.
- They ask for additional proffer sessions to get more information.
It’s a waiting game at that point. Your attorney can negotiate the best resolution based on the prosecutor’s stance. I’ve had cases go both ways – just be prepared if charges do move forward.
Protecting Your Rights in a Proffer Session
To reduce risks in a proffer, get protections like :
- Immunity for any statements made.
- Limits on what charges can be brought.
- Agreement that your statement won’t be used as evidence.
- Clarification on how information can be used if no final agreement is reached.
Your lawyer should fight hard to get the strongest protections possible in the proffer agreement. As the old saying goes, “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Don’t let eagerness for charging leniency outweigh your caution.
If You Don’t Proffer, What Are Your Options?
Declining a proffer session doesn’t mean you’re giving up. You still have cards to play:
- Invoke your 5th amendment right to remain silent.
- Have your lawyer interact with prosecutors on your behalf.
- Provide written statements instead of sitting for questioning.
- Work towards a dismissal by identifying weaknesses in the government’s case.
An experienced federal defense lawyer can advise on the best approach. Every case has unique dynamics, so you want someone in your corner who can adapt.
How Do I Find the Right Attorney for My Situation?
Vet any lawyer thoroughly before hiring them. Look for these indicators of expertise:
- Extensive experience handling federal criminal cases similar to yours.
- Strong record of positive outcomes in past cases.
- Reputation for aggressively defending clients rights.
- Clear communication skills and responsiveness.
- Engages in thorough investigation and preparation.
Don’t just go with the first lawyer you find from a Google search. Getting the right defense can make all the difference.
What Should I Do After Getting a Target Letter?
Here are some steps to take if that letter arrives:
- Remain calm – this isn’t over yet.
- Be extremely cautious about discussing the matter with anyone.
- Politely decline to speak with investigators.
- Hire an experienced federal defense lawyer immediately.
- Follow your lawyer’s advice about responding.
- Stay positive – people beat these investigations every day.
By keeping a level head and advocating for yourself, you can get through this. Don’t lose hope!
Answering Your Questions
I know this process raises so many questions and concerns. Please feel free to reach out if you want to talk through your specific situation. I’ll clarify anything you’re unsure about and point you towards good resources.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Together we can build an effective and empowering response. Things may look uncertain right now, but better days are ahead. Just stay focused on what you can control.
With preparation, perseverance, and a great lawyer on your side, you can get the fair outcome you deserve. I believe in you! And I’m here to help in any way I can.