Get Your FREE Copy of the Book by Stephen Hamilton Exposing the Truth
Secrets of the Texas Criminal Justice System and Your Rights
On occasion, the police decide that a suspect in a Lubbock drug case is more valuable as a witness than as a defendant. They may want to recruit a drug buyer to testify against a drug dealer, or to have a small drug dealer testify against his or her source. In those cases, the police might make all kinds of promises, including the assurance that the witness will not be arrested or prosecuted for possession or delivery of controlled substances.
Never believe the police. They are not authorized to make deals. Only a prosecutor can make an agreement that binds the government. In addition, deception is regarded as a legitimate tool for the police to use under some circumstances. Unfortunately, some officers view it as a tool to use in all circumstances.
A prosecutor who makes a deal will generally feel bound to honor the agreement as long as you provide testimony that the prosecutor regards as truthful and complete. A police officer who makes a deal may later decide that no deal was ever made.
If you agree to act as an informant and later as a witness based only on the assurance of a police detective that you will not be arrested, you might find yourself under arrest as soon as your services are no longer needed.
Importance of Contacting An Attorney
There may be circumstances under which you want to testify against someone else if you have some assurance that you will not be prosecuted, or will receive more lenient treatment for your own drug crimes, as a reward for cooperating with the government.
Never make that decision without consulting a lawyer. You need to understand the risks involved in becoming a cooperating witness. A criminal defense lawyer can help you understand those risks.
One of the greatest risks is that your truthful testimony will not be as damaging to the target of the investigation as the government would like it to be. The police and prosecutors may believe you are not being fully candid even if you are telling them everything you know.
If that happens, the government may be able to back out of any deal it made with you by claiming you are not being fully cooperative, leaving you exposed not just to a criminal prosecution but to being known as a snitch.
If you do decide to cooperate, you need an experienced lawyer to negotiate with the prosecution to assure that any agreement you make will be enforced. You need a lawyer who will have your your back if the government tries to withdraw from any cooperation agreement you make.
Steps to Take if Subpoenaed
Instead of making an agreement with you to induce your cooperation, the prosecution may simply serve you with a subpoena to compel your testimony at a trial or before a grand jury. If that happens, you have the right to remain silent, but the government may be able to circumvent that right by obtaining a grant of immunity. Before that happens, you need to seek legal advice.
Immunity can only be ordered by a court. Immunity does not mean you can never be prosecuted for any crimes you admit during your testimony. It is not a “get out of jail free” card. Immunity usually means that your testimony cannot be used against you in a subsequent legal proceeding.
It may also prevent the government from using evidence that it could only obtain after investigating leads that were provided by your testimony. But you only receive those protections if the judge enters the correct order. You need a lawyer on your side to make sure you are protected.
Even then, testifying before a grand jury can be a frightening experience. A July 17, 2014 article in the Houston Chronicle said that Texas grand juries “don’t just inquire. They interrogate. They intimidate. They appear to abandon their duty to serve as a check on overzealous government prosecution and instead join the team.” You don’t want to face that on your own. You need the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney so that you know how to handle yourself if you are compelled to testify before a grand jury or at a trial.