Whether it’s accomplice testimony, becoming an informant or turning state’s evidence, you’ll be “telling” on your collaborators. You’ll become a snitch.
Although sharing key information with law enforcement can help to reduce your sentence, there’s no guarantee. Generally speaking, the more compelling your information, the better the deal you’ll be offered.
Your testimony is just one piece of evidence among many. To bring about a conviction, there must be substantial evidence to corroborate your testimony. Remember that any testimony you provide can be used against you at your own trial.
Snitching is like a plea bargain. You have information that can help the prosecution build a case. However, the prosecutor must determine whether your involvement will help the case or hurt it.
Is It Worthwhile to Become a Government Informant?
It depends. If you chose that option, have your lawyer initiate the process as soon as possible following your arrest.
Turning state’s evidence is a serious legal decision that will impact the outcome of your case and the quality of your future. This is especially true with federal drug court cases.
The most important consideration is your safety and that of your family. You’ll be endangering the lives of your friends and business partners, after all. A dismissal of charges is pointless if you’re no longer around to enjoy it.
If you feel guilty about turning on your partners in crime and setting them up for a fall, cooperating with the government may not be your cup of tea.
You might have ethical concerns about the deception involved in being a government informant. Some federal informants have reported losing faith in the legal system in particular and in human relationships in general.
When Should I Get On Board?
It might seem better to wait until the government shows its hand before you offer anything in return. Only if the situation seems dire will most criminals consider turning state’s evidence. However, waiting to play that card is a bad idea.
An option to cooperate will usually be offered when you initially arrive at the police after being arrested. If you agree to cooperate right off the bat, only your lawyer and the authorities will know you’ve been arrested. If your arrest becomes known, your value as an informer will be negligible.
If your case involves multiple co-defendants, you should be one of the first to agree to cooperate. If you wait until the last minute, the authorities will have gotten most of what they need from your accomplices, and you’ll have no cards left to play.
What Happens After I Sign Up?
During a debriefing session, federal agents will question you about information they already have to determine how much you know. They also use this strategy to evaluate your truthfulness.
After you are debriefed, your lawyer will secure a proffer letter. That document ensures that nothing you disclosed in the debriefing session can be used as evidence against you.
If you know nothing or you lie about what you know, the session will be terminated. If the debriefing session is fruitful, a series of intelligence-gathering meetings will take place. You might be asked to arrange controlled buys from other suspected criminals.
What Are the Benefits of Cooperation?
The federal government generously rewards those who cooperate. Prior to sentencing, the prosecution will file a motion under Sec. 5K1.1 United States Sentencing Guidelines for a reduced sentence or a waiver of the statutory minimum mandatory penalty. This motion can only be made by the prosecutor, and the amount of penalty reduction will vary from case to case.
What Are the Risks of Cooperation?
Turning state’s evidence is not a quick fix for a criminal past. The defendants are often dangerous and unpredictable, and the government cannot provide 24/7 security service for life.
Prosecutors can maintain the confidentiality of their witnesses, so informers do have some protection under the law. However, the identity of an informant can be learned. Defense attorneys can make a motion to compel the prosecutors to disclose an informant’s identity.
Nevertheless, the federal government must protect its informants by maintaining their safety. If the situation warrants it, snitches may be placed in the Witness Protection Program (WPP). According to the U.S. Marshals, not one WPP participant has ever been harmed.
Informants receive a new identity and are geographically relocated. In most cases, simply protecting the identity of an informant and acting swiftly to crush threats is enough.
Snitches have been injured or killed, family members have been shot at and houses have gone up in flames. At the same time, prison life for a snitch may be the most dangerous option of all.
Have you have been charged with a federal drug-related crime? Do you have information that can help the prosecution win its case? If you’re willing to share what you know with the authorities, consult a federal criminal drug attorney as quickly as possible and before taking any action.
Attorneys must preserve your confidentiality under the attorney-client privilege. Tell your lawyer what you know, and find out whether turning state’s evidence would help or hinder your case.