Does California use target letters too?
If you are facing criminal charges in Orange County, you may wonder what your options are and how to protect your rights. You may have heard of target letters, which are official letters from the United States Justice Department telling someone that they may be prosecuted for a crime. Target letters often precede an indictment, in which prosecutors formally lay out the criminal charges they are bringing against someone. But, do California prosecutors use them too?
Target letters are commonly used by the Department of Justice, including federal field offices in California, in federal investigations, especially those involving white-collar crimes, public corruption or national security matters. The letter typically informs the recipient that they are a target of a grand jury investigation, the crimes they are suspected of committing, their right to not participate in the investigation and, should the recipient need one, how they can get a court-appointed lawyer. These letters also tell you that you could face obstruction-of-justice charges if you destroy or modify evidence.
What about California prosecutors?
The answer is yes, but not as frequently as the DOJ. California prosecutors have the discretion to use target letters in state criminal investigations, but they are not required to do so by law. Target letters are more likely to be used in complex or high-profile cases that involve multiple suspects, witnesses or victims. For example, target letters were used in the investigation of the college admissions scandal that involved celebrities and wealthy parents who paid bribes to get their children into elite universities.
A California target letter may not specify the exact charges that the recipient may face. Instead, they will describe the general nature of the alleged offense. They may also invite the recipient to contact the prosecutor’s office to discuss the case or provide information that could exonerate them or mitigate their liability.
What if I get one?
If you receive a target letter from either the DOJ or a California prosecutor, you should take it seriously and consult with your criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. A target letter is not an indictment, but it is a strong indication that one is likely to come soon.