What does a target letter, criminal information or indictment mean to me?
The federal criminal process begins with an Indictment, a Criminal Complaint, or a Target Letter. These documents are not evidence of guilt. They are merely allegations of criminal conduct. They are also clear indications that you need a federal criminal defense attorney immediately.
Indictments, Criminal Complaints, and Target Letters provide your attorney with critical information that he or she can use to your immediate advantage. From these documents, your lawyer can determine whether there may be opportunities to avoid federal prosecution. Your lawyer can know the offenses with which you have been or may be charged and the statutory maximums and minimums for those offenses. He or she may be able to identify the judge who will preside over your case. Based upon the offense(s) charged, your lawyer can perform a detailed guideline analysis using the United States Sentencing Guidelines to give you a reliable estimate of the length of the sentence of imprisonment that you face if you are convicted. You will need to refer to this guideline analysis throughout the criminal prosecution as you make critical decisions.
In addition, your attorney can identify the prosecutor assigned to your case. That gives him or her someone to talk to about important issues such as detention, discovery, plea agreements, trial, and sentencing. As soon as you know that you might be charged with a crime in federal court, you should contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Not all criminal defense lawyers are FEDERAL criminal defense lawyers. There are many brilliant state court criminal defense attorneys who have no business in a federal courtroom. They simply lack federal criminal knowledge and experience. Although many underlying principles are the same, federal criminal court is completely different from state court. You will need an experienced criminal defense attorney who is regularly in federal criminal court in order to get information about judicial tendencies, prosecutorial policies, and guideline application. Inaccurate information will lead you to bad decisions. You need reliable information in order to make good decisions.
In addition, nothing in this site should be taken to mean that you should ever be discourteous or disrespectful to a judge, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a law enforcement officer, or anyone else. You can assert your rights. You can defend yourself. You can hold the federal government to the burden that the law places upon them. You can do all of these things. But you must do so with courtesy and respect.
This same principle applies to other criminal defense attorneys. If you chose to hire another attorney or the court appoints an attorney to represent you, the relationship you have with your attorney is very important. In general, criminal defense attorneys are dedicated, knowledgeable, caring people who have dedicated their entire professional lives to helping people just like you. They did not create this problem for you. They are simply trying to help you to develop a solution. It is perfectly reasonable to ask your attorney questions based upon your independent research, but please do so with courtesy and respect. This site is not intended to provide substantive legal advice and it is not intended to cause friction between you and your lawyer. If you are currently represented by another criminal defense attorney, please consult him or her directly regarding questions you have about your case.
For more information about the biggest mistakes people make in federal criminal cases that cost them years away from their families and the most effective ways to avoid these mistakes please call (877) 593-4233 to request a free copy of my book, Busted by the Federal Authorities, A Handbook for Defendants facing Federal Criminal Prosecution or to speak with an experienced professional about your case.