The term, “target letter” is having a moment, even though, outside of criminal defense and prosecutor circles, most people had never heard of it. However, for those facing potential federal drug crimes, this may give you hope that you will get a heads up prior to being indicted. Unfortunately, that may not be true in your case.
What are target letters?
A target letter is sent from the United States Department of Justice that informs someone that they are the “target” of a potential criminal prosecution. These letters are usually sent before a federal indictment, and they give the target (the person potentially being accused of a crime) the opportunity to appear before the federal grand jury to present their own evidence or testify. However, they are not required by law, and as such, you may not get one, even if you are later indicted.
Are they used in Illinois?
Yes, but not always. In Illinois, if a drug arrest is made by a federal officer, the United States Attorney’s office (DOJ’s local prosecutorial arm) will review the case to determine whether prosecution is justified. If so, they can decide to issue a target letter to the potentially accused individual.
What do I do if I got one?
If you receive a target letter, it is important to take it seriously. However, you do not actually have to do anything and you have not been formally charged. At that point, you are not facing arrest, only the potential of a later indictment and arrest. The letter itself is just to let you know that you may face a federal civil or criminal charge. Sometimes, they are a formality, and the target is already aware of the potential charges they are facing. Other times, it is the first you hear about potential criminal charges.
Do not ignore it or throw it away. Breath. Do not panic. Contact your attorney immediately. Make sure you write down notable dates and information included in the letter, and do not destroy potential evidence.