Before a person can be forced to defend against federal criminal charges, a Grand Jury must return a formal indictment. A Grand Jury consists of no less than 16 nor more than 23 citizens from the federal district having jurisdiction over the case. Prosecutors present their case to a Grand Jury, and if 12 Grand Jurors find probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed, the Grand Jury returns an indictment.
The term “indictment” refers to the document that contains the charges against the individual or individuals in question. When the indictment is returned by the Grand Jury, it is filed in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court, and a warrant is issued for the arrest of those named in the indictment.
Lawyers specializing in white-collar criminal defense typically refer to the period where prosecutors are investigating and gathering evidence to present to the Grand Jury as the “target/pre-indictment phase.”
In non-white collar crimes, the suspect does not usually become aware of the governments investigation until the the time of arrest. In drug cases, for example, federal prosecutors and agents can be investigating their target for many months before an arrest is made.
White Collar Crimes Treated Differently
In white collar crimes, the situation is quite different. Most white-collar defendants find out prior to indictment that there is an investigation ongoing. There are a number of ways in which white-collar defendants can find out that an investigation is in process.
The Target Letter
Federal prosecutors throughout the country send out what are termed “target letters” informing the suspect that the United States Attorney’s office has commenced an investigation into the persons activities. Usually the letter will advise the individual as to the nature of the federal charges being investigated, i.e., bank fraud, money laundering, etc.
Federal agents may arrive at the targets home to advise the person that he/she is the target of a criminal investigation. On the other hand, they federal agents may inform the person that he/she is not a target, but that the agents wish to obtain certain types of information.
It is not unusual that friends, neighbors, employees and partners of the target are contacted and advised that they are investigating a certain individual and that the agents are attempting to obtain information on this person.
The Advantages Of Resolving The Matter In The Pre-Indictment Phase
If you suspect that you or your activities are under federal investigation, you will be well advised to retain the services of an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible. It is always easier for a lawyer to convince a prosecutor to decline to prosecute a case prior to indictment than it is to convince the prosecutor to dismiss a case once the target has been indicted.
There is a great chance for an early settlement or even a complete avoidance of an indictment before litigation formally commences. White collar defense attorneys are generally able to work out more favorable deals prior to indictment than after an indictment.