You have just learned that you have somehow become embroiled in a federal investigation. You might protest that you didn’t do anything wrong, so how is it possible that you got dragged into the investigation?
The answer lies in what the Department of Justice views as your status: witness, subject or target. As you can learn as the investigation unfolds, these differences matter a great deal. Also, dependent on your and others’ testimonies before a grand jury, your status could change from one category to another.
If you are a witness
Of the three, this is the least serious of the classifications. For instance, the grand jury may be interested in the information that you come across routinely as part of your job duties. This does not necessarily implicate you in any crimes, but you must understand that any information you give that is unprotected by a “proffer” agreement with the government could change your classification accordingly.
If you are a subject
Here is where matters begin to get more serious. In the handbook for the Department of Justice (DOJ), they refer to subjects as people “whose conduct is within the scope of a Grand Jury’s investigation.” What that means is that you are definitely within the crosshairs of the DOJ’s investigation, but they are not yet sure whether you can be charged with a crime.
If you are a target
This is the most serious designation and means that a grand jury or the prosecutor believes there is substantial evidence that can connect the dots and link you to criminal activity that can be proven in court.
Shifting status in a federal investigation
Be aware that a witness can become a subject who can turn into a target of a grand jury investigation based upon (among other things) their testimony. Learning more about your role and the law can help protect you should you wind up amid a federal investigation.