You know that the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the local authorities are looking into certain irregularities in your company’s records, and charges could be coming.
You’ve heard yourself described as a “person of interest” in this case. Does that automatically mean that you’re suspected of wrongdoing? Do you need an attorney right away or should you wait?
The term “person of interest” has no legal meaning
Federal prosecutors use all kinds of terms to describe people involved in their investigations. A “witness,” for example, may just have information about a case that the prosecutor wants. A “target,” on the other hand, is someone that the prosecutor definitely believes is guilty of some kind of crime. A “subject” of an investigation is typically somewhere in the middle of the two.
The term “person of interest,” however, has no actual meaning in the law. This nebulous term may be deliberately used when the authorities don’t want to alarm someone that they really consider a subject or when they want to put pressure on a witness. It’s better than being described as a target or a subject, but you can quickly go from a person of interest to something else the moment that the prosecutor decides they have enough evidence.
Whatever your situation and no matter how you’ve been described by the authorities, you need to take a deep breath and get some experienced legal guidance. An investigation doesn’t necessarily mean that a crime was even committed nor that charges are forthcoming – but being described as a “person of interest” should make you concerned about your future.