There are basically three types of people -- aside from the investigators themselves -- who end up involved in a federal investigation: witnesses, subjects and targets.
Frankly, you should be concerned if you're any of the three, because your status could change in a moment if you happen to say or do the wrong thing. However, knowing what your current status in a federal investigation can help you understand exactly what you're up against.
Here are the basics:
You can end up a witness in a federal investigation very easily -- even if you don't realize that you have any useful information. Merely having worked with someone who is suspected of a federal crime could potentially put you in a position to give information to investigators about that person's activities.
Witnesses have to be careful, however, if they choose to speak to investigators without the presence of an attorney. Unless there is an agreement in place, nothing they say is protected. Sometimes witnesses find out that they were somehow an accessory to criminal activity without realizing it. Other times, they make mistakes of fact that end up being perceived as a lie -- which is a separate federal crime.
Being the subject of a federal investigation doesn't necessarily mean you are suspected of a crime. Somewhere between the status of a witness and a target, subjects have often engaged in suspicious activity. Investigators may, however, end up uncovering information that makes that subject become a target.
It's a precarious position to be in. Only an experienced federal defense attorney can help you understand the potential of your liability.
A target of a federal investigation is someone who is actively suspected of criminal activity. Most of the time, you'll be told directly if you are the target of a federal investigation through a letter -- although sometimes the notice doesn't come until after a suspect starts hearing that his or her associates have been questioned.
Generally speaking, anyone who is interviewed by federal investigators runs a certain risk -- even when they don't realize it. An attorney with experience in federal investigations can help protect your rights.