Law Offices of Jeffrey W. Jensen 111 E. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1925 Milwaukee, WI 53202-4825
Jeffrey W. Jensen is a criminal defense lawyer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is also a criminal appeals lawyer in Wisconsin.
Should I Cooperate?
If you find yourself under arrest for a drug crime-- especially in federal court-- whether to cooperate with the agents is a critical decision that must be made early on. How you decide this question will have lasting consequences.
If you find yourself tangled up in a drug investigation, especially in federal court, there is a decision that must be made very early on; and how you decide this question will have a profound impact on the outcome of your case in drug court. The decision is whether to cooperate with the government. In other words, whether to be a confidential informant. If you decide to cooperate, it is possible to significantly mitigate the punishment you will face in the event of conviction. In some cases, cooperation may allow you to avoid a conviction altogether. On the other hand, cooperation can be very dangerous to both you and to your family; and, let's face it, you will be providing information that will be used to prosecute individuals who are likely to be friends, or at least acquaintances.
Why is it important to make the decision early on? Some defendants take the position that they will see what the government has against them before they decide whether to cooperate. In other words, they want to see whether they can beat the case and, only if it seems hopeless, will they cooperate. This is a risky strategy. Firstly, the opportunity to cooperate will usually arise even before any charges are issued. That is, the individual is arrested, taken to the police station, and he will almost be immediately asked whether he wants to cooperate. The reason for this is that the indvidual's value as a cooperating witness is much higher if no one, other than the police and the prosecutors, know that he has been arrested. Once charges are issued, especially in the internet era, everyone knows. A person facing drug charges is truly a pariah in the drug business. No one will deal with him. Secondly, especially where there is a multiple defendant drug conspiracy, it is important to be one of the first defendants to cooperate; otherwise, the value of the information you provide is significantly diminished because you will be telling the police many things that they already know from speaking to other cooperators. Do not believe your codefendants when they tell you that if we all keep our mouths shut, they cannot convict us. The person giving that advice has likely already sat down with the government. Thus, the decision to cooperate must be made immediately.
What is involved in cooperation? There are many forms of cooperation. Typically, the process begins with a "debriefing". Your attorney will obtain a "proffer letter", which, in a nutshell, will provide that nothing you say during the debriefing can be used as evidence against you. At the debriefing, the agents will ask you numerous questions designed to elicit information that they already possess. This serves two purposes: (1) to see whether you possess any valuable information; and, (2) whether you are being truthful. If you do not know anything, or if you lie to the agents, this will terminate the process. If the debriefing goes well, a number of intelligence gathering meetings will be conducted. Ultimately, you may be asked to arrange controlled buys from other individuals.
What can I expect in return if I do cooperate? In federal court especially, those persons who cooperate are fairly well compensated by the government. Shortly before sentencing, the government will file a motion under Sec. 5K1.1 United States Sentencing Guidelines for a downward departure from the sentencing guideline range. The motion may also include a request to waive the statutory minimum mandatory penalty. Since only the government can make this motion-- not the judge or the defense-- one can appreciate the importance of early cooperation. It is not possible to describe an "average" amount of sentence reduction because each case varies based on its facts. Suffice it to say, though, that the federal criminal justice system operates almost entirely on cooperating witnesses. If the government developed a reputation for cheating its informants, this valuable font of information would dry up very quickly.
Will people find out who provided the information? There is a provision in both the federal law and in the state statutes that provides a privilege to the government to decline to identify a confidential informant. Thus, at least as an initial matter, a cooperating witness enjoys some protection under the law. As a practical matter, though, there are many ways that the identity of an information can be discovered. Probably the most common way is that the person being prosecuted reads an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant, for example, and even though the information is alleged to have come from "CI3", the defendant will be able to deduce the identity of the person who provided the information. Additionally, the person's defense attorney may make a motion to compel the government to identify the informant. Such a motion will be granted if the informant was a "transactional witness"-- that is, a person who conducted a transaction with the defendant, or one who is an eye-witness to any relevant evidence.l Finally, there is an outside change that an informant will be identified because the government is required to call the person as a witness at the trial any person who is charged as a result of the cooperation.
What are the risks? Naturally, given the value that informants provide to the government, the government takes great steps to protect its cooperating witnesses. In extreme cases, the informant may even be placed into the Witness Protection Program, which will result in a changed identity and movement to another part of the country. In most cases, though, it simply means protecting the identity of the informant to the extent possible and, if the informant receives any sort of threat, to come down heavily on the person making the threat. Nonetheless, there are very dangerous people involved in the drug trade, and government agents cannot protect personally protect an informant around the clock. With some regularity, informants are threatened and, in some cases, even injured or killed. Houses are burned down, and shots are fired at family members. Additionally, life in prison can be very difficult for a snitch.
If you are arrested on drug charges, then, it is critical to immediately seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The criminal lawyer will discuss with you the advantages, and the disadvantes, of cooperating with the government. Usually, the attorney will not make a recommendation one way or the other. This is because, if you do cooperate, you may significantly improve the outcome of your case in drug court, but you must live with the fact that you have snitched on friends and exposed yourself and your family to danger. On the other hand, if you refuse to cooperate, you will be one who pays the significant price attached to a drug conviction.
Milwaukee criminal defense attorney Jeffrey W. Jensen, of the Law Offices of Jeffrey W. Jensen, a Milwaukee law firm with offices located at 111 E. Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1925, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has represented persons throughout the State of Wisconsin. If you will face felony charges in either state court or in federal court you should call 414.671.9484. Attorney Jensen regularly appears in Milwaukee County (Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer), Waukesha County (Waukesha criminal defense lawyer, Brookfield criminal defense lawyer), Washington County (West Bend and Germantown criminal defense lawyer), Racine County (Racine criminal defense lawyer), Kenosha County (Kenosha criminal defense lawyer), Brown County (Green Bay criminal defense lawyer), Fond du Lac County (Fond du Lac criminal defense lawyer), and Winnebago County (Oshkosh criminal defense lawyer)
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