How Does Cooperating With The Federal Government Actually Work?
If it is an option for someone, it can come in many different forms when you can work successfully with the Federal Government. Cooperation depends on the person’s level of involvement with an ongoing or particular crime that is being investigated. Sometimes, you will see that people will be granted to participate in what is called a debrief. In exchange for giving information to the government, they may enter into an agreement with the government that they will not be charged at all. There are other individuals that cooperate with the government, and they will only face a set number of charges. Often we will see that the government will not promise anybody a specific benefit to testify. This is done in an effort to make their testimony like unbiased.
A person may be granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. This happens when a person’s testimony or answers to questions may reveal that they themselves have violated some law. For example, if you are answering questions related to a wire fraud case, and your involvement in that may implicate you in a tax evasion. There is immunity where the government can agree, and the court could order that any testimony that you provide under this order cannot be used against you. Therefore, if you were to testify, and implicate yourself in that tax evasion, you cannot be prosecuted for that. Especially in conspiracy cases, you will see that the government is seeking to get cooperation or debriefing meetings with each and every target they have. It is very important if you have any inclination to cooperate that you want to be one of the first people to get that done. The more information that the government is able to gather from other individuals, the less valuable your information becomes.
Is It Generally A Good Idea To Cooperate With The Government In a Federal Criminal Case?
That is a very fact specific question when dealing with the government. It all depends, because the way federal crimes are structured, and how the federal sentencing guidelines apply to those crimes, as opposed to the advisory guidelines that we see in state court. It is going to depend on each individual client’s positioning before the case. What I mean is their past criminal history, if they are on probation, or have any other pending charges. In addition, what is the crime they are charged with? Anyone that is charged with defrauding the government with no prior criminal history, if their guidelines come back to probation, or say incarceration up to six months, it may not be as beneficial for that person to participate in a debrief.
They may want to strongly hold to their right against self-incrimination if the government’s case against them is not strong. It is important to understand that any time you are cooperating with the government, and providing evidence, you are giving them opportunity to investigate you further. If you have pending issues, your leverage as it relates to their ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether you are guilty of committing the crimes is now subject to a further investigation.
What Are The Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
The federal sentencing guidelines are another reason to make sure you are dealing with an attorney that has federal criminal defense experience. The federal sentencing guidelines can be very confusing. There are manuals and guides that explain how to use those federal guidelines, and they are about 900 to 1000 pages long. That is a lot to read. Nevertheless, what the federal sentencing guidelines do is taking into account the severity of the crimes committed, as well as the offender, or the defendant’s prior criminal history. From there, the sentencing guidelines produce the numbers for the severity of the offense level of that crime. There are forty-three different offense levels. Obviously, the lowest being one and the highest is forty-three.
There are six different criminal history categories based on the number of prior convictions, probation revocations, actual jail sentences, and charges pending. A person’s criminal history is ranked one through six. The sentencing guidelines table is a chart that maps as the offense level rises. If the criminal history category rises, the recommended months of imprisonment also goes up. Therefore, someone with a very low offense level of one, and no prior criminal history of one, the federal sentencing guidelines would range from zero to six months of imprisonment. In contrast, someone with a very serious offense, say thirty or forty, even if that person has only a one on their criminal history category, that person would be looking at 262 to 327 months of imprisonment for a conviction.
From there, on the sentencing table, or the guideline range, there are deviations, and variations that can be argued, and applied by a judge. There are certain things that will give you points off. If you were to plead guilty to a charge, or spare the government the expense of proceeding to a trial, you can receive up to a three level reduction points in your offense. These are what we call safety valves. A safety valve, if applicable, can reduce up to two offense levels with a minimum offense level of seventeen, and if there is a statutory mandatory minimum in your case, you may be sentenced under that with the applicable safety valve.
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