When facing a serious criminal charge, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will present legal options that may assist in lessening the consequences of the alleged crime. When applicable, a Cooperation Agreement is a common defense strategy for felony charges. Learn more about Cooperation Agreements and how they could benefit your federal case.
What is a Cooperation Agreement?
Cooperation Agreements are typically embodied in the text of a plea agreement and require a defendant/cooperator to agree to plead guilty to a felony charge and to perform some act of “substantial assistance” to the government in exchange for a lesser sentence. Substantial assistance may include testifying against another party, going undercover, agreeing to repeated debriefings with law enforcement, agreeing to meetings with prosecutors and defense attorneys, and providing information that could lead to the arrest of other persons.
Under the agreement, the prosecution promises to file a 5K1.1 Letter – a letter that seeks to issue a lower sentence based on the substantial assistance the cooperator provided to the prosecution. Based on the 5K1.1 letter, the courts will often impose a lower sentence, however, it is not always guaranteed.
When May a Cooperation Agreement Be Offered?
A Cooperation Agreement is not always an option for a criminal defense strategy. Three factors determine whether a prosecutor will even consider such an agreement. These include:
- The value of the defendant’s cooperation
- The relative culpability in connection with the offense or offenses being investigated or prosecuted and the defendant’s history with respect to the criminal activity
- The enforcement of criminal laws is not being compromised by excusing a defendant from punishment
How do they Work for Federal Cases?
We mentioned before that Federal cooperation agreements stem from the defendant performing an act(s) of “substantial assistance” to the government’s investigation and/or prosecution.
Acts may include going undercover, taping conversations, debriefing law enforcement, meetings with lawyers, or testifying before a grand jury or in court.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, a sentencing judge may reduce a sentence upon if the defendant has given substantial assistance in the Federal investigation and prosecution of another person.
In cases where a defendant offers substantial assistance to the government, a motion allows the judge to sentence below the statutory mandatory minimum sentence guidelines.
Related > Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Use of Information
Federal Sentencing Guidelines prevent the use of information provided by the defendant in the cooperation agreement to determine the sentencing range only if the government has agreed not to use it. Otherwise, the government may provide all relevant information to the sentencing judge. Keep in mind even with an agreement, not all information provided is protected.
Federal Sentencing Guideline § 1B1.8(b) allows the use of the information against defendants at sentencing if:
- it was known to the government before entering into the cooperation agreement,
- it concerns the existence of prior convictions and sentences,
- it is being used in a prosecution for perjury or giving a false statement,
- in the event there is a breach of the cooperation agreement by the defendant,
- in determining whether, or to what extent, a sentence reduction is warranted under a § 5K1.1 motion.
What Can I Expect from a Cooperation Agreement?
If a Cooperation Agreement is offered, the following considerations should be taken into account:
- The defendant/cooperator must plead guilty to a felony charge.
- The defendant/cooperator agrees to testify against other accused parties.
- The arrangement would result in prosecutors promising to file a 5K1.1 Letter to the court in which a lower sentence would be requested but is not always granted.
- The defendant/cooperator could potentially face significant consequences (including a lengthy prison sentence) due to pleading guilty to a felony.
Can the Government Breach a Cooperation Agreement?
Yes. In some cases, although you show cooperation and provide assistance, the federal government may refuse a motion for a sentence reduction for substantial assistance.
Our defense attorney can help demonstrate what’s known as ‘preponderance of the evidence’ that the defendant provided the degree of assistance contemplated by the cooperation agreement. The government may fail to file should they determine the assistance provided was not “substantial”. In these cases, this is not considered a breach of the agreement.
Related > Target of Investigation Letter
Under Investigation for Federal Criminal Charges
Federal felony charges can result in significant consequences, and for this reason, it is critical to seek an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. At Stechschulte Nell, we are well versed in the strategies commonly used in the criminal justice system and will create and present a strong criminal defense against the charges you face.