24/7 call for a free consultation 212-300-5196




When you’re facing a federal issue, you need an attorney whose going to be available 24/7 to help you get the results and outcome you need. The value of working with the Spodek Law Group is that we treat each and every client like a member of our family.

Federal Criminal Defense FAQ: Answers to Common Investigation Questions

Federal Criminal Defense FAQ: Answers to Common Investigation Questions

Receiving a target letter or finding out you are under federal investigation can be an incredibly stressful and frightening experience. As a criminal defense attorney who regularly represents individuals facing federal charges, I often get asked similar questions by nervous clients who have just been notified they are under investigation.

In this article, I want to take some time to answer several of the most common questions I get when someone realizes they are being investigated for a federal crime. My goal is to provide you with helpful information so you understand what to expect and how to respond if you find yourself in this situation.

What Should I Do If I Receive a Target Letter?

A “target letter” is a letter sent by federal investigators to notify you that you are under investigation for potentially committing a federal crime. If you receive one of these letters, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney.

I cannot stress this enough – do NOT ignore a target letter. Hiring a lawyer to represent you is crucial for several reasons:

  • Speaking to investigators without guidance from an attorney can create confusion and lead to additional evidence being used against you. Anything you say can potentially be used against you, so you need counsel present.
  • An attorney familiar with the federal system can review the allegations and quickly assess your potential exposure. This allows you to make informed decisions on how to respond.
  • Your attorney can contact prosecutors on your behalf to try and resolve the investigation without charges being filed. In many cases, providing evidence of innocence is enough to halt prosecution.

The bottom line is you should never try to handle a federal investigation on your own. These cases can carry severe penalties if charges are filed, so engaging experienced counsel early is critical.

What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

If your investigation leads to federal charges being filed, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines will play a major role in determining your potential punishment. The guidelines provide a complex formula for calculating sentencing ranges based on the type and severity of the crime, as well as the defendant’s criminal history.

Some of the main factors considered under the guidelines include:

  • The defendant’s criminal record: The more extensive your prior record, the harsher your sentence will be. Those with minimal or no criminal history tend to receive more lenient sentences.
  • Seriousness of the offense: Each federal crime is assigned a “base offense level” under the guidelines. Additional enhancements can increase the offense level based on specific offense characteristics. The higher the final offense level, the more severe the recommended sentence.
  • Acceptance of responsibility: Defendants who plead guilty and clearly accept responsibility for their actions are eligible for a reduction in their offense level. But this is not guaranteed and you must show true remorse.
  • Aggravating or mitigating factors: The court can apply upward or downward adjustments to the final guideline range if certain aggravating or mitigating factors are present. The adjustments can be subtle but have a meaningful impact on prison time.

Navigating the intricacies of the guidelines requires an attorney well-versed in the federal system. Even a one or two level change can significantly reduce a client’s exposure, so hiring knowledgeable counsel is paramount.

What is Relevant Conduct and How Does it Affect My Sentence?

A concept you’ll hear in federal cases is “relevant conduct.” This refers to offenses, whether charged or uncharged, that the court can consider when applying the sentencing guidelines. It includes acts and omissions that were part of the same course of conduct or common scheme as the convicted offense.

In other words, the court does not just look at the specific crime you pleaded guilty to or were convicted of. They expand the scope of conduct considered based on connections to the underlying offense. This often leads to harsher guideline ranges and sentences.

Some examples of relevant conduct include:

  • Uncharged criminal acts with a similar objective: If you engaged in other uncharged crimes related to the convicted offense as part of a common scheme, those acts can be used to increase your guideline range. For example, if you plead guilty to one count of wire fraud but committed other acts of fraud as part of the same scheme, the total fraud amount will likely be applied.
  • Offenses originally charged but later dropped: To incentivize plea deals, prosecutors often agree to drop certain charges if you plead guilty to others. But the dismissed charges can still count as relevant conduct at sentencing if they were part of the same course of criminal activity.
  • Criminal acts of other participants: Under the concept of “jointly undertaken criminal activity,” the court can consider criminal acts of your co-conspirators or partners when those acts were reasonably foreseeable to you. Their conduct becomes your own for sentencing purposes.

Relevant conduct is one of the most impactful concepts in federal sentencing. It is imperative your attorney understands how to contest inappropriate relevant conduct arguments that may artificially inflate your range.

What Should I Do if Federal Agents Want to Speak With Me?

If federal agents reach out requesting you answer questions or provide a statement, you should exercise extreme caution. The agents are building their investigation against you and looking for information to solidify charges. They are not on your side.

Before speaking to agents, you should immediately:

  • Decline the interview request: You have the constitutional right to remain silent and are not required to speak with them, so make it clear you are declining the interview.
  • Hire an attorney: Do not provide any statements or information to agents without counsel present. Anything you say can be detrimental to your case.
  • Follow your lawyer’s advice: If your attorney arranges an interview, listen closely to their guidance on which questions to answer and how to respond. Give only the specific information your lawyer recommends – nothing more.

I cannot emphasize it enough – never speak to federal agents without first consulting with an attorney. The stakes are too high, and anything you say can come back to haunt you later. An experienced federal defense lawyer can carefully guide your interactions so as to minimize further exposure.

Schedule Your Consultation Now