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Plea Bargaining After a Target Letter: Pleading Down Charges and Sentences

Plea Bargaining After a Target Letter: Pleading Down Charges and Sentences

Getting a target letter from the government can be scary. It means prosecutors have evidence against you and you could be facing criminal charges. Your first reaction might be to panic! But don’t worry – there are options. You don’t have to go straight to trial and get the maximum sentence. This article will explain how plea bargaining works and what you can do after getting a target letter.

What is a Target Letter?

A target letter is a notice sent by federal investigators to a person who is the target of a criminal investigation. It informs you that you’re under investigation and invites you to cooperate with prosecutors before charges are filed. Target letters don’t always lead to prosecution – but they often do.

So if you get one, it means the government has evidence against you and thinks it can prove you committed a crime. Some common crimes that lead to target letters are tax evasion, wire fraud, identity theft, and other white collar offenses. But they can really be for any federal felony.

Don’t Panic – Consult a Lawyer

Getting a target letter is scary because it means you’re facing possible criminal prosecution. Your first reaction might be panic! But don’t do anything rash. Consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer before responding.

An attorney can review the letter and help figure out your best options. There are strategic decisions to be made about whether to cooperate and how. So get legal advice before you do anything else.

Respond Carefully – Don’t Incriminate Yourself!

You don’t have to respond to a target letter. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right not to say anything self-incriminating. However, prosecutors may view a non-response as uncooperative.

If you do respond, be very careful what you say. Don’t make admissions or provide evidence against yourself. Stick to general statements like “I dispute these allegations and will defend myself in court if necessary.”

Christine Twomey
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Any statements you make, can be used against you. So consult your lawyer before sending any written response. And never agree to a prosecutor interview without your attorney present!

Explore Your Options – Including Plea Bargains

After reviewing the target letter and evidence, your attorney will explain all your options. These usually are:

  • Cooperate with prosecutors and testify against others
  • Negotiate a plea bargain to reduced charges
  • Go to trial and fight the charges

Cooperating can help in some cases – but comes with big risks. Pleading guilty is safer but means a criminal record. So weigh your options carefully.

Plea Bargaining Basics – Reduced Charges and Sentences

Many target letter recipients – more than 90% of federal defendants – resolve their cases through plea bargaining. This involves negotiating with prosecutors to plead guilty in return for charging and sentencing concessions.

Specific plea bargain terms depend on the case facts and evidence. But common outcomes include:

  • Pleading to less serious charges
  • Dismissal of some charges
  • Sentence recommendations
  • Avoiding certain penalties

Plea deals provide certainty and control over outcomes. But you must admit guilt and waive important rights. So consult your lawyer before accepting any bargain.

How Plea Bargaining Works After a Target Letter

There is an art to negotiating plea agreements. Experienced lawyers know how to get prosecutors to drop and reduce charges. Here are some key strategies they use:

  • Highlight evidentiary problems – attack the strength of the government’s case.
  • Raise affirmative defenses – claim your actions were legal.
  • Provide information or cooperation – offer prosecutors something else of value.
  • Appeal to equities – emphasize collateral consequences and hardships.

The goal is to convince prosecutors they have weaknesses in their case, or that a plea serves other interests. This takes advocacy and negotiation skills.

How Much Can Charges and Sentences Drop?

There are no fixed rules on how much plea bargains reduce charges and sentences. Outcomes depend on the:

  • Seriousness of the charges
  • Strength of the evidence
  • Defendant’s criminal history
  • Guidelines and mandatory minimums
  • Prosecutor’s policies and goals

But experienced lawyers know how to get substantial concessions in many cases. For example, pleading to a misdemeanor instead of a felony or getting probation instead of prison.

Special Concerns in White Collar Cases

Plea bargaining works differently in white collar cases. Some special concerns include:

  • Cooperation – Prosecutors may demand cooperation against others to get a deal.
  • Forfeiture – You may have to forfeit assets allegedly tied to the crimes.
  • Fines – Large fines may be required in financial cases.
  • Restitution – You could get ordered to pay back victims.

So financial penalties are common in white collar plea bargains. An experienced negotiator can minimize them.

The Benefits of Plea Bargaining After a Target Letter

Pleading guilty has major benefits compared to trial if you are likely to lose. These include:

  • Certainty of outcome – no risk of maximum sentence
  • Faster resolution – no lengthy trial
  • Privacy – details won’t come out at trial
  • Lower sentence – often much lower than after trial
  • Lower costs – avoids high expense of trial

Trading some rights for these guarantees often makes sense. But consult your lawyer before accepting any plea deal.

The Risks and Downsides of Pleading Guilty

Plea bargaining also comes with major downsides, including:

  • Felony conviction – long-term stigma and consequences
  • Prison, fines, and restitution – guaranteed punishment
  • Supervised release – extra monitoring after sentence
  • Forfeitures – loss of assets and property
  • Waiving rights – no trial, appeal, civil lawsuits

These consequences can be limited through good negotiation – but not avoided entirely. So weigh the pros and cons carefully.

How to Get the Best Deal After a Target Letter

Here are some key tips for getting the best plea bargain:

  • Hire an experienced white collar defense attorney
  • Negotiate early before indictment
  • Highlight any weaknesses in the government’s case
  • Offer useful cooperation if possible
  • Get character references to show your good qualities
  • Explain severe collateral consequences of conviction

Following this advice can help minimize charges and penalties. But every case is different.

Take Your Time – Don’t Rush Into a Plea Deal

Deadlines and pressure from prosecutors can make you feel rushed into pleading guilty. But don’t let them bully you. Carefully consider all options before making a decision.

The stakes are high and you can’t take back a guilty plea. So talk to your lawyer and family before doing anything. Use the time to build your case and negotiate.

With patience and preparation, you can often get much better deals than those initially offered. Don’t let the government pressure you into a bad decision.

Getting Legal Help After a Target Letter

Getting a target letter means you need an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney. Don’t go it alone. Hire legal help to protect your rights and future.

A knowledgeable lawyer can help once you receive a target letter by:

  • Reviewing the letter and evidence
  • Explaining all your options
  • Guiding your response and negotiations
  • Negotiating plea bargains
  • Defending you at trial if needed

So consult a lawyer immediately. Careful legal help early is your best protection after getting a target letter.

With the right guidance, you can get through this and put the situation behind you! Don’t lose hope.


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