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Responding to DEA Target Letters in Drug Crime Investigations

Responding to DEA Target Letters in Drug Crime Investigations

Getting a target letter from the DEA can be scary. It means you’re being investigated for a federal drug crime. Don’t panic! With the right legal help, you can get through this. I’m here to walk you through what to do if you get one of these letters.

What is a DEA Target Letter?

A DEA target letter says you’re a target in an investigation by the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad. They think you violated federal drug laws, like illegally distributing prescription drugs or operating a pill mill. The letter will describe the investigation and alleged crimes.

It will also say a grand jury is investigating. Grand juries decide whether to indict people for crimes. An indictment means formal criminal charges. So a target letter means charges could be coming your way.

What Should I Do If I Get One?

First, don’t panic. Getting a target letter doesn’t mean you’ll be charged. It means you’re on the DEA’s radar. Many investigations don’t lead to indictments. So take a deep breath.

Next, don’t talk to the DEA. The letter will likely ask you to meet with agents or prosecutors. Politely decline for now. Anything you say can be used against you. So don’t provide information until you have a lawyer.

Then, hire a criminal defense attorney. Get someone with experience handling federal drug cases. They’ll advise you on responding to the letter and dealing with the investigation. A skilled lawyer can often prevent charges.

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Also, don’t destroy evidence. The letter will warn against this. Destroying documents or data related to the investigation can lead to obstruction charges.

Finally, respond to the letter. Have your lawyer help draft a response. Confirm you received the letter and will cooperate through counsel. This shows you’re taking it seriously.

What Information Will the Letter Contain?

The target letter should explain:

  • You’re a target of a DEA Tactical Diversion Squad investigation
  • The general nature of the alleged crimes
  • That a federal grand jury is investigating
  • You can contact the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case
  • You shouldn’t destroy evidence

It won’t give many specifics. Those will come later if you’re indicted. The letter just puts you on notice you’re under scrutiny.

Why Do People Get Target Letters?

The DEA focuses on illegal distribution of controlled prescription drugs. So target letters often relate to:

  • Pill mills – doctors prescribing drugs without a legitimate purpose
  • Diversion – funneling drugs to illegal channels
  • Forgery – fake prescriptions
  • Doctor shopping – getting multiple scripts from different doctors
  • Dealing – selling your prescription drugs

The DEA uses prescription drug monitoring programs, surveillance, informants, and data analysis to identify targets.

What Happens After I Get a Target Letter?

After you receive a target letter, a few things could happen:

  1. The DEA drops the investigation and no charges are filed.
  2. You negotiate a plea deal before being indicted.
  3. You’re indicted and then negotiate a plea deal.
  4. You’re indicted and go to trial.

Your lawyer will interface with the DEA and prosecutor’s office to learn more about the investigation. They’ll then advise you on the best legal strategy.

Should I Meet with Investigators?

Probably not without your lawyer present. The DEA may ask to interview you or get documents after the target letter. Be cautious providing information without counsel.

Investigators are building a case against you. What you say could be used against you, even if you think you’re being helpful. Let your lawyer deal with information requests.

Can I Go to Jail Just for Getting a Target Letter?

No, a target letter alone doesn’t land you in jail. It just means you’re on the DEA’s radar. Many investigations fizzle out. Others end in plea bargains with probation. Jail requires an indictment and conviction.

Now, if you’re already facing state charges, the target letter could impact that case. Any evidence the DEA uncovers could be shared. So it’s important to have experienced counsel to get in front of things.

What Should My Lawyer Do?

A skilled lawyer will:

  • Negotiate with the prosecutor for a dismissal or reduced charges
  • Work to prevent criminal charges from being filed
  • Identify deficiencies in the DEA’s case
  • Develop defenses showing your innocence
  • Protect your rights if the case goes to trial

Having an attorney who regularly handles federal drug cases is crucial. These are complex investigations requiring specialized legal knowledge.

What Are the Penalties If I’m Convicted?

That depends on the charges, but penalties are severe for federal drug crimes including:

  • Prison time – decades in some cases
  • Fines – up to $5 million for corporations
  • Asset forfeiture – losing property connected to the crime
  • Supervised release – probation after prison
  • License revocation – for doctors and pharmacists

Your lawyer’s job is minimizing penalties. That could mean no charges, dropped charges, reduced charges, or acquittal at trial.

Can I Go to Trial If Indicted?

Yes, you can reject plea bargains and take your case to trial. Your lawyer will discuss whether that’s a viable strategy. Factors include:

  • Strength of the DEA’s evidence
  • Potential penalties if convicted at trial
  • Merits of potential trial defenses
  • Background of the judge and jurisdiction

Even if you want a trial, it’s wise to leave room for a plea deal in case the trial outlook changes.

What Should I Do Now?

The most important thing is contacting a skilled criminal defense lawyer immediately. The earlier counsel gets involved, the better the chances of a favorable outcome. Don’t go it alone against the DEA.

With an experienced attorney advising you, responding to a DEA target letter doesn’t have to be scary. It’s the first step in building an aggressive legal defense. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and start discussing your options with counsel.

[1] Strategies for Responding to Target Letters From the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad

[2] Responding to Target Letters From the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad

[3] Target Letters from a Federal Government Investigation

[4] What Should I Do If I Received A Target Letter?

[5] A Review of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Use of Administrative Subpoenas to Collect or Exploit Bulk Data

[6] Letter from the US Attorneys Office?

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