In this multi-part series, we will examine and provide a general overview of criminal legal processes, as well as key pieces of evidence. This article highlights a common way to discover that you are under a criminal investigation, prior to being arrested and brought to jail. This process is common for state and federal sex crimes, drug crimes, theft and white collar crimes. Mostly due to the fact that these types of crimes require extensive investigations.
How do I know if I am under investigation for a crime?
One of the most common ways for you to find out that you are under investigation is when you are approached by a government agent. The agent could be an investigator with a local police department or an agent of any number of federal law enforcement agencies (FBI, DEA, Secret Service, etc…). This will largely depend on what type of crime you are being investigated for, its severity level and/or whether it is a violation of state or federal law. The investigator may go to your house and leave a card if they don’t reach you, try to call you or invite you to their office for an interview. Another common way to discover that you are under investigation is through a “target letter.”
What is a “Target Letter?”
This a letter from the prosecuting authority informing you that you are either a “target,” “witness” or “subject” in a criminal investigation. A “target” essentially means that the investigation is focused on you because they believe that you committed a criminal offense. A “witness” on the other hand, is someone who they believe has information related to a criminal offense. In other words, they don’t necessarily believe that you did anything wrong, but you may have seen something or have evidence related to a crime. Lastly, a “subject” lies in between a witness and a target. This means that they believe that you may have been involved at some level in criminal activity, but you are not the focus of the investigation at that point. It is important to understand that a witness can easily become a target or subject, or vice-versa. It all depends on what information they uncover or that you provide to their investigation.
I have nothing to hide, should I talk to the investigator?
The simple answer, NO! Especially not without the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The simple fact of the matter is that the government agents are not looking out for your interests. They are trained to make you feel like you need to talk them and that they just want your side of the story. In addition, the cards are often stacked against you before you even speak with them. This is because they are under no obligation to share with you what information they have already gathered through their investigation. Many times they know more than you think, but will make you feel like they don’t. Even what appears to be an innocent explanation on your part, can contradict their evidence and make you seem guilty or deceptive. Your statements can and will be used against you.
All communications with law enforcement should be done through your attorney. Your attorney will act as the middle-man between you and the government. They can carefully examine your case and learn what evidence the government has against you. After that point they will be in a position to determine whether or not it will be beneficial for you to provide a statement in a controlled environment. In addition, because this is a very early stage in the criminal process, an experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable outcome, or help you avoid criminal charges because they understand that the government has not yet put forth substantial resources in the investigation at this point.