“U.S. Attorney Defendants” can have slightly different meanings depending on whether the United States Attorney’s Office (the “USAO”) is conducting an investigation or whether it has filed a formal law suit in court against a person or a company. United States Attorneys’ Offices are part of the U.S. Department of Justice (the “DOJ”). Sometimes people refer to a U.S. Attorney’s Office as the DOJ. Most often, though, “DOJ” is used to refer to the Department of Justice’s main office in Washington, D.C., as opposed to the U.S. Attorney’s Offices located in each State.When a U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting an investigation it usually believes, based on evidence available to it at the time, that a federal crime may have occurred. Often the USAO is assisted in its investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and/or one or more other federal investigatory agencies. During a USAO investigation, a person or company that the USAO believes actually did commit a crime is often referred to as a “target” of the investigation. Over the course of a USAO or FBI investigation, someone who the USAO or FBI initially believe may be a potential “target” may come to be viewed as just an innocent witness. Likewise, someone who the USAO or FBI initially believe is just a witness may come to be viewed as a “target”. During an investigation, sometimes people outside of the USAO and FBI will refer to a “target” of the investigation as a US Attorney defendant in the investigation.
Over the course of its investigation, the USAO may come to believe that one or more people, or one or more companies, did in fact commit a crime. A person or company may be able to get the USAO to agree to settle the situation during the investigation. The settlement is typically documented in an agreement (called a “Plea Agreement”), which is then presented to a court for the court’s approval. A person or company that enters into a plea agreement with the USAO is formally called a “defendant” when the USAO submits the plea agreement to the court.
Typically, if a person or company does not settle the situation by entering into a plea agreement during the investigation, the USAO will present the evidence that it has to a federal grand jury and ask the grand jury whether it finds enough probable cause to believe that the person or company did commit a crime. At this time, the person or company may be referred to as a “grand jury defendant” or a “defendant” in the grand jury investigation.
If the grand jury does find enough evidence, it can issue an “indictment”. The USAO begins a formal lawsuit against a person or company when it files the grand jury’s indictment in federal court. This lawsuit in a federal court is usually referred to as a “prosecution” or a “criminal case”. Once a prosecution or criminal case is brought, the person or company that the USAO is suing is called a “defendant”.
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U.S. Attorney Defendants | U.S. Attorney Defendant