Federal criminal investigations can be a daunting and confusing process for those involved, whether you are a target or a witness. Understanding the differences between being a target and a witness is crucial in knowing one’s rights and obligations. So, lets start by discussing the distinctions between targets and witnesses in a federal criminal investigation, the implications of receiving a grand jury subpoena from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), and the options available to those who receive such subpoenas. Blog Post
Targets vs. Witnesses: Key Differences
The primary distinction between a target and a witness in a federal criminal investigation lies in the individual's potential involvement in the crime being investigated.
A target is a person against whom the federal government has substantial evidence, linking them to the commission of a crime. As a “target”, they face the possibility of indictment and arrest. An indictment is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime, and it is typically issued by a grand jury following an investigation. If indicted, the target could face trial and potential conviction, leading to fines or imprisonment.
On the other hand, a “witness” is someone who has information or evidence relevant to the investigation but is not believed to be directly involved in the criminal activity. A witness may be called before a grand jury or at a criminal trial to testify and produce evidence. They do not face the same possible consequences as a target, as they are not accused of any wrongdoing.
Receiving a Grand Jury Subpoena from the United States DOJ
A grand jury subpoena is a legal order that requires an individual to provide testimony or produce documents for a federal investigation. The subpoena may be issued by the United States DOJ during the course of a criminal investigation, and it typically specifies the date, time, and location for the witness's testimony or the production of documents.
Options for Witnesses Who Receive a Grand Jury Subpoena
If one receives a grand jury subpoena, they may have several options:
a. Comply with the subpoena: One can elect to comply with the subpoena and provide the requested testimony or documents. In this case, the witness will appear before the grand jury on the specified date and time, or will produce the required documents.
b. The witness can seek legal counsel to determine what options are available: It is always advisable to consult with an attorney experienced in federal criminal law when one receives a grand jury subpoena. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can help one understand their rights and obligations and can provide guidance on how to proceed—including whether the witness stands any risk of elevating to the level of a target if they produce the requested evidence or testimony. This can be an important factor to consider as it implicates the possibility of self-incrimination.
c. That brings me to the next option, the witness can elect to invoke plead the Fifth : The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from self-incrimination. If one believes that their testimony or the production of documents could potentially incriminate them, they may elect to invoke the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment. By doing so, the witnesses refuse to testify or produce the requested documents on the grounds that doing so could be used against them in a criminal case. However, invoking the Fifth Amendment is not a blanket protection, and it is important to consult with an attorney to determine whether this is a viable option for given situation. If there is potential criminal exposure to the client, this may also present defense counsel with an opportunity to begin a conversation with the government prosecutor about potential cooperation with the federal investigation in the hopes of mitigating or even avoiding future criminal prosecution.
Understanding the difference between being a target and a witness in a federal criminal investigation is crucial for knowing one’s rights and obligations. If a witness receives a grand jury subpoena, it is important to seek legal counsel and consider all options, including invoking theFifth Amendment right if appropriate.
This blog post was prepared with the assistance of ChatGPT-4 AI. Nothing in this post should be considered legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This blog is strictly for informational purposes only.