What is the Difference Between a Target and a Subject in a Federal Investigation?

February 4, 2023

In a federal investigation, the terms “subject” and “target” are used to describe the individuals or entities under investigation. However, these terms have distinct meanings and implications in the context of a federal investigation. It is important to understand the difference between a subject and a target in order to fully understand the nature and scope of an investigation and the potential consequences that may result.

Subject in a Federal Investigation


A subject in a federal investigation refers to an individual or entity that is being investigated for possible criminal activity. A subject is someone who may have information or involvement in the alleged criminal activity under investigation but is not the primary focus of the investigation. The investigation may or may not result in charges being brought against the subject.

Target in a Federal Investigation


On the other hand, a target in a federal investigation refers to an individual or entity that is the primary focus of the investigation and against whom the government intends to bring charges. A target is someone who the government has probable cause to believe has committed a crime, and against whom the government has substantial evidence.

The Distinction is Not Always Clear


It’s worth mentioning that the distinction between a subject and a target is not always clear-cut, and an individual or entity may be considered both a subject and a target at different stages of an investigation. For example, an individual may start as a subject and later be identified as a target if the evidence against them becomes stronger.

The status of a subject or a target in a federal investigation can have significant implications for the individual or entity under investigation. For example, a subject may be less likely to be arrested or charged with a crime and may be more likely to be offered a plea bargain or a lesser charge. On the other hand, a target is more likely to be arrested and charged with a crime and may face more severe consequences if convicted.

It’s also important to note that, for a subject, the investigation can be closed without any charges being brought against them, and they can move on with their life, however, for a target, the investigation may result in an indictment, and a trial or a plea bargain.

It’s worth mentioning that, in some cases, the government may use the term “subject” or “target” in a more general or informal way, and the distinction between the two may not be as clear as the definition provided above. In these cases, it’s important to consult with an attorney who has experience in federal criminal defense to fully understand the nature and scope of the investigation and the potential consequences that may result.

In conclusion, the terms “subject” and “target” are used in a federal investigation to describe the individuals or entities under investigation. A subject refers to an individual or entity that is being investigated for possible criminal activity but is not the primary focus of the investigation. A target, on the other hand, refers to an individual or entity that is the primary focus of the investigation and against whom the government intends to bring charges. The distinction between a subject and a target can have significant implications for the individual or entity under investigation, and it’s important to consult with an attorney who has experience in federal criminal defense to fully understand the nature and scope of the investigation and the potential consequences that may result.

Contact Us for Help


If you’re in California and you believe to be a subject or target in a federal investigation, then call us today. The government’s case can build momentum with the passage of time. You must retain an experienced Orange County federal crimes attorney to protect yourself. Federal charges are extremely serious and require a competent lawyer to represent your side.

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