How Does Cooperating With The Federal Government Work?

People who are accused of a crime in federal court sometimes have information about someone else who has committed a crime. Often, they'd like to trade that information for a reduced sentence.

In this short video, federal criminal defense attorney Matt Kaiser explains how cooperating with the federal government after you've been accused of a crime works.

Sometimes, if you've been charged with a crime in federal court, cooperating with the government makes sense. But there are real consequences to cooperation that a person ought to be aware of going into cooperation.

Video Transcript:

Sometimes when someone is accused of a federal crime what they want to do is they want to try to get their time down by cooperating, by helping the Government. There are a lot of misconceptions about how cooperation in federal cases works. Cooperation can be a way for some people who are willing to accept its risks and accept the danger of pointing the Government out to someone else to reduce their time. But it's not necessarily a get out of jail free card and it's not an easy thing to do.

First, what has to happen in every judicial district I have worked in is you have to agree to plead guilty first. You can’t be fighting with the government about what happened in your case and at the same time trying to work with the government to help them make somebody else’s case. If you are going to try to get the benefit of cooperation you are going to have to have a guilty plea first.

Second, you should know the cooperation is not necessarily to get out of jail free card. In some parts of the country if you cooperate and you help them catch someone else and that someone else goes to prison, you can get a significant sentencing reduction. Sometimes you can get a sentencing reduction significant enough that you don’t actually go to prison yourself. Other parts of the country if you go in and you work with the agents and you cooperate you can get a small sentencing reduction but you are almost never going to be able to eliminate prison time entirely. It really depends office to office and district to district how different US attorney’s offices were handling this across the country. There is really no uniform policy on cooperation.

The next thing you need to realize is that for cooperation there is no A for effort in many places. If you go in and you work hard, but you still aren’t able to give them evidence that they can use to catch someone, you won't get cooperation credit. If you don’t get that cooperation credit you will have already plead guilty and be locked into a guilty plea.

Cooperation for some people can make sense, it can be a good way to reduce their prison time. But for some people it doesn’t make sense. If you are not willing to go all in and tell the whole truth to the government about everything you know, about anybody who has committed a crime, it can be a very, very bad experience indeed.