Making sense of a letter from federal investigators

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Some people discover that they are about to get involved in a federal investigation when they have a face-to-face encounter with some kind of federal agent. However, you won’t always have a personal encounter.

Instead, you could receive a letter in the mail. As nerve-racking as it may seem to receive an official letter from federal investigators or prosecutors, you can’t put off opening the letter. The sooner you understand its contents, the more time you will have to prepare an appropriate response.

Is it a letter alerting you to your role in a federal investigation?

The federal government uses letters to advise people of pending investigations sometimes. A witness letter serves to alert someone that investigators believe they have information that is important to their investigation. Finding out that the government wants you to be a witness is frightening, but it is even more nerve-racking to receive a subject or target letter.

In a subject letter, investigators let you know that something they think you have done falls within the scope of their current investigation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you will face criminal charges. However, it may mean that investigators have evidence that may implicate you. Finally, a target letter is formal notification that you are the focus of an ongoing federal investigation.

A certified letter could be a subpoena

The letter you received may not be a subject or witness letter but rather a subpoena duces tecum (SDT). Like a witness letter, an SDT serves to advise you that you have information the federal government deems crucial to its investigation. However, what they want is not your testimony but documentation or paperwork.

What is the purpose of sending out such letters?

There are two primary purposes for sending out letters during an investigation. The first is to collect evidence and connect with witnesses. The second is to potentially prompt someone suspected of a crime into taking actions that would implicate themselves.

If you have received any of these letters pertaining to a federal investigation, it is most likely in your best interests to sit down with an attorney as soon as possible. Federal regulations are complex. You may have broken the law without realizing you did. You might also be at risk of implicating yourself or others if you respond to a subject or witness letter without adequate support.

Rather than taking your chances of making a mistake that could impact your freedom, it is better to get help so that you maximize your protection during this process.