One day, your life was completely normal and mundane. The next, you found yourself embroiled in a federal investigation of some kind related to your work, your investments or something else.
One of the first questions you need to answer is “What’s your status: Are you a witness, a subject or a target?” The answer may inform your legal strategy and your next decisions. The differences are defined below.
- A witness is someone who has information that the investigators want. They’re generally not suspected of doing anything criminal themselves.
- A subject is someone who is under the prosecutor’s scrutiny. Your behavior may be deemed “suspicious,” but the investigation hasn’t yet yielded enough information for the investigators to determine whether any actions were illegal.
- A target is someone who is actively suspected of wrongdoing. The investigators feel that you’re most likely guilty of criminal activity and will probably soon be pressing charges.
Knowing where you stand can help you and your defense attorney decide just how much you should cooperate with the investigation to better manage the risk. It’s wise to understand, however, that these designations are fluid and subject to change.
Understand, too, that nobody is really immune from further trouble. Even a witness, for example, can get into trouble if they tell investigators something that’s later deemed to be untruthful. That’s often how obstruction of justice cases get started in the wake of federal investigations.
Whatever the situation, it’s always best to respond to questions from federal agents by invoking your right to remain silent and waiting on your attorney before you say anything else. Protect your future by thinking ahead.