In a Federal criminal investigation, individuals involved are separated into three categories: suspect, target and witness.
If Federal authorities believe you may have committed a crime, you will be referred to as a suspect or a target. There is also a chance that you will summoned to talk to investigators if you have information that could help a case move forward.
The difference between a suspect and a target
The key difference between being a suspect and being a target is the level of confidence investigators have that you committed a crime. Typically, you are referred to as a suspect if there isn’t enough proof to say that you violated the law. If authorities do have strong evidence that you committed a crime, you will be referred to as the target of an investigation.
Witnesses can face legal consequences as well
Generally speaking, a witness is someone who may have witnessed a crime take place or who may otherwise be able to assist federal authorities. While you generally won’t be charged with a crime for witnessing illegal activity, you could face charges for lying to authorities. Therefore, it is important that you share what you know in an open and transparent manner.
How do you know if you’re the target of an investigation?
Typically, you will receive a letter stating that you are the target of an investigation. In some cases, that letter will be delivered at the same time authorities execute a search warrant to look through your home or office. If you believe that you might be charged with a crime in the near future, it may be a good idea to hire an attorney.
A criminal attorney may be able to help preserve your rights throughout a federal investigation. It might be wise to hire legal counsel even if you are just a witness or are the subject of an investigation who wants to clear your name. An attorney may be able to minimize the chances that you accidentally perjure or incriminate yourself.