Understanding The Legal Process

The Difference Between Being A Witness, A Subject, And A Target Of A Federal Investigation

by Eli Gregory

There's a lot of news these days about federal investigations, and the people caught up in their wake are variously described as targets, subjects, and witnesses. 

What's the difference? Each of those terms has a unique meaning. If you're ever involved in a federal investigation surrounding a crime, it's important to understand what those terms mean in order to better understand the position that you are in. Here's what you should know.

What's a Target?

A target of a federal investigation is someone who is actively suspected of committing a crime. If you're a target, you should realize that investigators have already decided that you are guilty. The investigation is just the process they go through of gathering enough evidence to win a conviction. Most commonly, targets find out that they're under investigation through an actual letter -- although that letter is sometimes hand-delivered as investigators execute a search warrant on the target's home or office.

If you're the target of a federal investigation, you're in an incredibly vulnerable position. It's important to seek advice from a criminal law attorney immediately in order to best protect your rights and your freedom.

What's a Subject?

People often think that the "subjects" of a federal investigation are the same as its targets -- but that's not true at all. A subject of a federal investigation is someone that authorities believe may have been involved in some kind of crime. Usually, the subject has done something that the authorities consider suspicious -- but they don't necessarily know that a crime has been committed. 

Being the subject of a federal investigation is harrowing. Most people are anxious and want to clear themselves from suspicion as quickly as possible -- but that's often a bad idea. If you talk to federal investigators without an attorney present, you could end up exposing yourself to legal liability in ways that you don't quite understand. An attorney's advice can protect you from negative consequences as you endure the investigation.

What's a Witness?

Witnesses aren't suspected of any kind of wrong-doing, but that doesn't mean that they're in the clear. In a federal investigation, a witness is anyone the authorities think may have critical information that will allow them to move forward with prosecution. For witnesses, the chief danger is that they'll be accused of lying to investigators -- which is a crime in its own right. Something as simple as a misremembered date could open you up to charges of obstruction of justice. That's why even people described as witnesses in federal investigations usually have their own attorneys.

Most federal investigations revolve around complex financial crimes or large conspiracies. It's easy to be swept up in the broad reach of an investigation before you know it. If it happens to you, make sure that you get solid representation as soon as possible. For more information, contact a law office like Larson, Latham, Huettl Attorneys.