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In the United States legal system, a “target letter” is a document sent by a U.S. Attorney’s Office to individuals who are the subject of a criminal investigation. These letters are significant because they notify the recipient that they are a “target” of a federal investigation, which means that the government has substantial evidence linking them to a crime. Understanding the implications of a target letter is crucial for anyone who receives one.

Key Aspects of a Target Letter:

A target letter is typically issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is responsible for prosecuting federal crimes. It may also come from a grand jury.

The primary purpose of the letter is to inform the recipient/defendant that they are a target of a criminal investigation. This is a formal notification that the individual is more than just a witness or a subject; they are a person against whom the prosecutor believes there is sufficient evidence to bring charges.

Contents of Typical Target Letter

Identify the recipient as a target of a criminal investigation.

Detail the nature of the criminal conduct being investigated.

Often inform the target of their right to remain silent and their right to counsel.

May include an invitation to testify before a grand jury, along with a warning that anything they say can be used against them.

Legal Implications of Target Letter

Seriousness: Receiving a target letter indicates that the investigation is serious and that charges are likely forthcoming.

Legal Rights: It serves as a reminder of the individual’s legal rights, including the right to avoid self-incrimination and the right to legal counsel.

Potential for Negotiation: In some cases, it opens a window for the individual’s attorney to engage in discussions or negotiations with the prosecutor, possibly to reduce charges or penalties, or even to argue for the target’s exclusion from the investigation.

Target Letter Recipients Should

Seek Legal Counsel: Anyone who receives a target letter should immediately contact an attorney experienced in federal criminal law. This is not a situation to be handled without professional legal advice.

Avoid Self-Incrimination: The recipient should refrain from discussing the case with anyone other than their attorney to avoid self-incrimination.

Preserve Evidence: It’s important to preserve any potential evidence that might be relevant to the investigation.

No Obligation to Respond: Typically, there is no legal obligation for the recipient to respond to a target letter. However, not responding can have strategic implications, so any decision should be made in consultation with legal counsel.

Potential Outcomes: The investigation can lead to various outcomes, including the filing of criminal charges, a plea agreement, or the decision not to prosecute.


A target letter is a clear indicator that the recipient is under serious scrutiny by federal prosecutors and potentially faces significant legal jeopardy. It is a critical juncture in any federal criminal investigation, signaling that legal advice and strategic planning are essential for navigating the challenges ahead.

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