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The Truth About Federal Indictment Odds After Receiving a Target Letter

The Truth About Federal Indictment Odds After Receiving a Target Letter

Receiving a target letter from federal prosecutors can be an incredibly stressful and scary experience. You may feel anxious, afraid, and unsure of what to do next. This article aims to provide truthful, helpful information about what a target letter means and what your odds of being indicted are after receiving one. We’ll also discuss steps you can take to protect yourself.

What is a Target Letter?

A target letter is a written notice from federal prosecutors indicating you are under criminal investigation and could face charges. Essentially, it means the prosecutor believes you may have committed a crime. Target letters are commonly used in white collar cases like fraud, but may be sent in any federal criminal probe[1].

While not an official charge, a target letter signals that you are a main suspect. It typically informs you that:

  • You are the focus of an investigation
  • The potential crimes prosecutors believe you committed
  • Your right to remain silent/avoid self-incrimination
  • How to obtain legal counsel, including a public defender if you cannot afford a lawyer
  • A request or order to testify before a grand jury
  • A suggestion to contact the prosecutor to discuss the case

The letter usually asks you to take some kind of action, like speaking with the prosecutor or appearing before a grand jury. You may also be asked not to destroy any relevant documents.

Why Do Prosecutors Send Target Letters?

While not required, there are several reasons prosecutors send target letters[2]:

  • As a courtesy to let you know you are under investigation and could face criminal charges
  • To get you to provide more information or evidence related to the case
  • To prompt you to accept a plea deal instead of going to trial
  • To give you time to build your legal defense

Keep in mind target letters are not guarantees you will be indicted. But they do suggest prosecutors have compelling evidence against you and think charges are likely.

What Are Your Odds of Indictment After a Target Letter?

It’s difficult to give exact odds. Every case is different. But statistically, your chances of being indicted after getting a target letter are high – around 80-90% according to many legal experts[3]. However, it’s not 100% certain.

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Here are some factors that may impact whether you are ultimately indicted[4]:

  • Strength of evidence – The stronger the evidence against you, the more likely prosecutors move forward with an indictment.
  • Type of crime – Certain crimes like fraud or public corruption are more commonly prosecuted federally.
  • Cooperation – If you cooperate with investigators and provide useful information, you may avoid charges.
  • Legal defenses – Your lawyer may find defects in the government’s case that undermine their ability to prove your guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
  • Plea negotiations – Your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal that avoids indictment.

While high, indictment odds are not 100% guaranteed. But you should take the target letter very seriously and hire an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer immediately.

Can a Target Letter Be Dismissed or Stop an Indictment?

No, there is no way to directly challenge or dismiss a target letter. Since it comes from the prosecutor, not the court, a federal judge has no power to revoke or throw out a target letter[5].

However, in some cases, an attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor to rescind the letter or decide not to pursue charges after further review. This depends on the prosecutor, the strength of evidence, and the specifics of your case.

What Should You Do After Receiving a Target Letter?

Getting a target letter can be scary. But it’s important not to panic. Here are some steps to take to protect yourself[3]:

  • Get a lawyer – Hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after receiving a letter. They can advise you on the best response.
  • Follow the instructions – Carefully follow any directions in the letter, like when to contact the prosecutor or appear before a grand jury.
  • Do NOT talk to investigators – Do not speak to FBI, IRS, or other federal agents without your lawyer present. Anything you say can be used against you.
  • Do NOT destroy evidence – Destroying documents, emails, or anything related to the investigation can lead to obstruction of justice charges.

The most important thing is getting experienced legal counsel on your side immediately. An attorney can protect your rights, review evidence, negotiate with prosecutors, and defend you every step of the way.

How Can a Lawyer Help After You Receive a Target Letter?

Here are some of the ways a federal criminal defense lawyer can help if you’ve been served a target letter[4]:

  • Analyze the letter and evidence against you.
  • Advise you on your rights and legal options.
  • Guide you on responding to investigator inquiries.
  • Represent you in interactions with the prosecutor.
  • Negotiate a plea deal to reduce charges.
  • Work to have your target status downgraded or eliminated.
  • Defend you before the grand jury.
  • Build defense strategies if you are indicted.
  • Represent you vigorously in court if charges are filed.

An experienced attorney understands the federal criminal justice process. They can provide skilled guidance each step of the way if you receive a target letter.

Takeaways: What You Need to Know

  • A target letter says prosecutors think you committed a crime, but is not a formal indictment.
  • Around 80-90% of people who get a target letter are eventually indicted.
  • Hire a lawyer immediately and follow all instructions in the letter.
  • Do not speak to investigators without your attorney present.
  • An experienced lawyer can help negotiate with prosecutors and defend your rights.

Getting a federal target letter can be an extremely stressful experience. But an experienced criminal defense attorney can help protect your freedom. With proper legal guidance, it may be possible to avoid or fight criminal charges.


[1] https://www.burnhamgorokhov.com/criminal-defense-resources/federal-criminal-process/target-letters-from-federal-law-enforcement

[2] https://www.thefederalcriminalattorneys.com/what-is-a-federal-target-letter

[3] https://www.miami-criminal-lawyer.net/cases/federal-crimes/target-letters.html

[4] https://www.robertmhelfend.com/federal-defense/target-letters/

[5] https://www.gordondefense.com/legal-process/pretrial/target-letters/

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