A visit from federal agents is not exactly anybody’s idea of a good time, but it may be your first clue that there’s serious legal trouble brewing.
If this happens to you, you need to know – as early as possible – how they see you. The key to this is understanding the language they use to describe you.
Four terms that federal authorities use
If the federal authorities are taking an interest in your personal or professional life, you can bet that you fall into one of these categories:
- Witness: This is someone that has (or is believed to have) information that is useful to the authorities to help build their case.
- Person of interest: This is a vague term that only started being used in the mid-1990s, and it is only loosely defined. Generally, it means that the authorities believe that you may have something to do with the crime they’re investigating, but they don’t have enough evidence to make a firmer statement.
- Subject: This means the authorities have some reason, however thin, to suspect that you are involved in criminal activity – even if you are not yet charged.
- Target: This means that the authorities have substantial evidence against you and you are likely to be charged in the future. In the mind of the federal prosecutor, you are soon to be a defendant.
All that being said, it’s important to note that your category is not locked in stone. You can be a witness today and the subject of an investigation tomorrow, depending on what the investigation uncovers. That’s why everyone touched by a federal investigation (from the lowliest witness on up) should have experienced legal guidance.