Cooperation Agreements in Criminal Cases
In a complex case with many defendants in New Jersey, a state or federal prosecutor may offer immunity or a lighter sentence in exchange for cooperation.
Typically, a prosecutor might offer a defendant who is not the main target of an investigation or prosecution a good deal in a plea bargain. If the cooperative defendant’s testimony is substantially helpful to the prosecution’s case, they may enter into a formal cooperation agreement. Are you considering or seeking to enter into a cooperation agreement to resolve criminal charges that have been filed against you in New Jersey? We can help. The renowned criminal defense lawyers at the Tormey Law Firm have extensive experience handling cooperation agreements on behalf of clients in courts across the state. Contact our offices anytime at (201)-556-1570 for immediate assistance and a free initial consultation.
Common Types of Criminal Cases that Involve Cooperation Agreements
An extensive drug trafficking network has various participants doing different jobs, making it a good candidate for cooperative agreement. When it comes to a drug bust after a large-scale narcotics investigation, some manufacture the drugs, others sell them, while still others finance the operation. Then, there are the ringleaders in a narcotics trafficking venture who run and possibly fund the whole thing. The prosecutor more than likely wants to convict the major operators to remove influential drug crime participants from the public and lessen illegal drug activities. However, the most powerful and wealthy drug trafficking leaders often have a slew of attorneys to defend them and make the prosecutor’s job difficult. Thus, they may offer a lesser player, perhaps a delivery person in the operation or manager, immunity (non-prosecution) for information and testimony about their bosses and higher-ups in the network.
However, drug trafficking networks are not the only criminal activities the state may want to use informants or co-defendants via a cooperation agreement. White-collar criminal cases, as well as organized crime operations, may attract the cooperation agreement solution. Thus, federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) violations involving killers for hire in mobs or corrupt unions embezzling dues from its members, may involve many levels of operatives in a complex corrupt organization. In addition, high-profile and multilayered criminal schemes may take excessive time and resources to prosecute all involved. To save time and streamline huge cases, a federal prosecutor might offer several parties to inform on others in a cooperation agreement.
Cooperation Agreement vs. Typical Plea Agreement
Unlike a plea bargain, which is a guilty plea exchange for lesser charges or other benefits to a defendant, the cooperation agreement develops over time. It extends over the length of the case. It is not a quick conclusion to the defendant’s case to limit the resources that the state expends on the matter. Thus, a defendant who cooperates with the prosecution may involve issues that the state negotiates for months, the terms of which eventually end in an agreement. And, unlike the ordinary plea agreement, the terms may tie the cooperator to several obligations.
In a regular plea agreement, the defendant pleads guilty and gets sentenced, ending the case for that defendant. Conversely, a defendant may agree to interviews, debriefings, covert actions, and reporting in a cooperation agreement. The obligations may span over the life of the case, which could be months to years, including future retrials. As such, the agreement requires the cooperator to perform all the obligations before getting immunity. The agreement’s language must be precise and careful to ensure the informant’s immunity is contingent on fulfilling all the terms in the agreement.
Who Qualifies for a Cooperation Agreement in a Criminal Case
When considering agreements for cooperation, a prosecutor must be conscientious about such an offer and agreement. They must ensure that the defendant has essential evidence against the top dogs in the scheme that would help indict and convict them. As such, a prosecutor may sit down informally or formally with an informant defendant and ask them questions. They may record the testimony of the potential informant witness, so they can verify the information and weigh its worth in a possible trial.
Process for Prosecutors when Securing Defendant Cooperation
To get a cooperation agreement approved by a judge, a prosecutor must follow specific procedures. First, offering a sentence lower than that prescribed by the Attorney General’s Table of Authorized Plea Bargains, they must show the informant’s substantial value to the prosecution in identifying, investigating, apprehending, and prosecuting fellow defendants and state the reasons for a lesser sentence. The prosecutor must also consider the informant’s truthfulness and thoroughness of the informant’s information and their safety in assisting the prosecution. They must then get approval from their senior prosecutor or another authorized agent to offer a sentence lower than the law requires before getting a judge to authorize it in chambers or otherwise out of public view.
The judge wants to see that the agreement spells out the obligations of all parties. For example, the extent of cooperation expected of the informant, including full disclosure of all they know about the criminal activity of co-defendants, in exchange for a sentence or range of penalties the prosecution would recommend to the judge at the time of sentencing should be in the agreement.
What Happens if the Defendant Fails to Fulfill the Terms of a Cooperation Agreement?
Since the defendant’s cooperation may last for a long time and the obligations listed in the agreement may be numerous, the agreement must anticipate the cooperating defendant’s possible default or incomplete assistance. For example, a defendant may work with the prosecution for years on a case but fail to do one or two things required under the agreement. The agreement can anticipate contingencies, such as substantial performance under the contract and the sentence recommendation for falling short of the total performance.
How a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney can Help with Your Cooperation Agreement in NJ
In a criminal case involving a cooperation agreement, the agreement itself can be quite complex for a prosecutor to configure and a defendant to review. A defendant must have an experienced attorney familiar with these agreements to help them obtain, negotiate, and review a cooperation agreement. A criminal defense lawyer who defends you against the state’s charges must know how to negotiate the terms of a cooperation agreement.
Thus, from the start of your journey through the criminal justice system, you want a criminal defense attorney qualified to advocate for a cooperation agreement and to negotiate one if you are involved in a large case. Your attorney may inform you from the outset about the cooperation agreement possibility if your charges and participation in a venture are not as important as others’ or the evidence against you makes such a decision advantageous to you. Your value as an informant may rest on a challenge to your motivation and prior criminal history. And the factors for consideration are vast and varied when cooperating with authorities is a significant option to best serve your interests in a criminal prosecution.
Speak to a highly qualified criminal defense attorney at The Tormey Law Firm to get the full story about the possibility of cooperating with the prosecution if you or someone you love has been charged with a crime in New Jersey. When you need to understand the benefits and drawbacks, decide whether a prosecutor’s offer is worth taking, and ensure that you get the most favorable outcome in negotiations with the state, count on our legal team. Call (201)-556-1570 for a free confidential consultation.