President John Adams famously remarked that the United States is a nation of laws. As such, there is likely at least one law that affects every part of your daily life. There are also more than 5,000 federal criminal laws you must not break. If you do, you may find yourself the target of a criminal investigation.

Criminal investigations unfold in a variety of ways. Nonetheless, with many, criminal suspects eventually receive a target letter from a U.S. attorney. The purpose of this letter is to notify you that you are the subject of a criminal investigation. The letter also asks you to appear before a grand jury or in the U.S. attorney’s office to proffer information about the matter.

The language of the letter

Reading a target letter carefully is essential. When you read yours, pay special attention to the language in the letter. Specifically, note whether the U.S. attorney calls you a target or a subject. If you are a target, the U.S. attorney likely believes you have committed a federal offense. On the other hand, if you are a subject, the U.S. attorney may think you have critical information about a matter to present to a grand jury.

Your legal options

There is no formal requirement that you hire an attorney after receiving a target letter. Doing so, though, is apt to be in your leading interests. After all, you may be facing considerable criminal consequences. Similarly, because target letters regularly call on recipients to provide information, you must be careful not to incriminate yourself. Remember, prosecutors may use any statements you make against you.

If you receive a target letter from a U.S. attorney, federal criminal charges against you may be imminent. As such, you must never ignore the target letter. Furthermore, to better protect your legal interests, you should explore your options before a prosecutor files charges.