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Juror who prompted calls for new Ghislaine Maxwell trial turns to lawyer who defended Anna Sorokin.
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Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 07:39 am
Immunity is a powerful tool in federal criminal cases. It allows prosecutors to obtain critical information and testimony in exchange for not prosecuting someone for their role in a crime. This article will explain how immunity works, the different types of immunity, and when it may be offered.
Immunity refers to an agreement between prosecutors and an individual that allows the individual to avoid prosecution for their involvement in a crime, in exchange for providing information or testimony. Immunity takes away a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, allowing them to be compelled to testify without their statements being used against them.
The goal of immunity is to allow prosecutors to gather evidence and build cases against more significant criminals. A drug mule may be offered immunity to testify against a major trafficker, for example.
Federal prosecutors have broad discretion on whether to offer immunity. It is typically offered when:
Prosecutors conduct a cost-benefit analysis. They weigh the value of the testimony against letting someone off the hook. Immunity allows them to secure the information they need to convict more dangerous criminals.
There are two main types of immunity in federal criminal cases – “transactional” immunity and “use/derivative use” immunity.
This offers the highest level of protection. Transactional immunity prevents the government from prosecuting the witness for any act about which they testify. Even if other evidence is uncovered, the witness cannot be charged for the crimes they testified about.
Transactional immunity is very rare in the federal system. It still exists in some state jurisdictions.
Also called “use and fruits” immunity, this is the most common federal immunity. It is also referred to as “Queen for a Day” immunity.
Use/derivative use immunity only protects the actual statements made under the immunity deal. Anything derived directly or indirectly from those statements also cannot be used to build a case against the witness.
However, prosecutors can still charge the witness if they obtain independent, wholly separate evidence. So the witness words don’t provide a blanket shield for other crimes.
Immunity negotiations happen between the prosecutor and the witness’s defense attorney. The initial proffer session allows a witness to tell what they know, subject to immunity.
If the information is valuable, prosecutors will draft an immunity agreement letter. This formally grants use and derivative use immunity for the witness’s statements.
The letter may include requirements to testify truthfully before grand juries, at trials, or in other proceedings. There are often proffer session requirements too.
Violating the agreement by lying, refusing to testify, or disclosing the negotiations prematurely can lead to criminal charges. Honesty is essential.
Immunity has some important limitations:
The decision to accept immunity is an important one with lifelong implications. Witnesses may be testifying against former friends and associates and admitting their own role in crimes.
Experienced federal defense counsel is essential when immunity is on the table. Negotiating favorable immunity terms takes finesse. There are also very specific procedural rules that must be followed.
A lawyer can advise on the different types of immunity and whether the offer is reasonable. They can negotiate the best possible deal under the circumstances. And they can ensure the agreement is properly executed and binding.
Immunity is a unique bargaining chip in federal criminal cases. It allows prosecutors to secure critical evidence by removing the threat of prosecution for witnesses. Different types of immunity offer varying degrees of protection.
The decision to accept immunity should not be taken lightly given the potential consequences. Consulting with a seasoned federal criminal defense attorney is crucial when an immunity deal is possible. With expert guidance, an appropriate agreement can be negotiated that satisfies both prosecutors and the witness.
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