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Should you cooperate with the police, aka snitch, when faced with possible drug crimes?

June 21, 2013,

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Cooperation, Undercover Drug Deals, Snitching: Using the little fish to get the big fish.

We have found that our clients charged with drug crimes experience a state of insecurity and despair when it comes to doing undercover work or cooperating with the police. This is something that is outside of the comfort zone for nearly everyone, especially the family members of our clients faced with this dilemma.

The classic predicament: Should a person engage in undercover drug deals or hire a lawyer for advice and face the criminal charges in the court system?
Whether someone charged with a drug crime should cooperate with the police to get a favorable deal is a delicate and controversial topic. It is necessary to obtain legal advice should anyone be charged with a drug crime and asked to cooperate. Consultation with a criminal defense attorney is crucial - time is of the essence.

We have successfully defended clients charged with drug crimes since our firm's inception without taking the precarious route of "cooperation" with the police. This is especially true for clients who do not have a prior criminal record, and those that are caught with a small quantity of drugs or marijuana.

Some Facts about Cooperation with the Police

  • There is no guarantee that you will avoid criminal charges when you cooperate with the police!
  • The police will not be able to guarantee your safety if you engage in undercover drug deals!
  • Cooperation with the police ends when the police say it ends!
  • Cooperation may mean engaging in drug deals that not only involve much higher quantities than you had in your possession, but may also include buying other types of drugs!

What is the Purpose of Cooperation?

The need for inside information is a dynamic law enforcement tool in the war on drugs. A minor drug offender who is used by the police to get the 'bigger fish' is justified on the grounds that drugs are a dirty business. This issue necessitates the need for undercover informants. The end result is another drug bust which nets the police additional sources to gain information. Should the drug bust bear fruit, others will be implicated, assets forfeited and prosecutions will occur.

Retain a Lawyer to Protect Your Rights and Discuss Your Options

When someone is arrested for a drug crime, the arresting agency will attempt to get a suspect to cooperate, or snitch. This is usually followed an offer of possible preferential treatment in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, I hear from my clients far too often that they are told by the police that they do not need a lawyer in this scenario. This is absurd and dangerous. Whenever someone forgoes his or her 6th Amendment Constitutional right to a lawyer, he or she can wind up doing risky undercover drug deals without ever knowing all of the possible options. In addition, we found that police dictate the level of cooperation that is required. In other words, cooperation is not over until the police say it is over. This may mean that someone who is not faced with serious drug charges is coerced, or persuaded, to participate in risky undercover drug transactions without ever getting sound legal advice.

Here is what the police do not tell you:

  • Pursuant to the 6th Amendment of the US Constitutional, you have a right to an attorney.
  • Pursuant to the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution, you have a right to remain silent.
  • Your attorney can petition for deals to have your case dismissed pursuant to MCL 333.7411 or HYTA (Youthful Trainee Act), even if you do not cooperate with the police.
  • You may have defenses to the drug charges. For example, illegal searches and lack of actual possession.
  • You may not be facing jail.

We have made references to an excellent You Tube video, "Don't Talk to the Police", in other internet posts. We found the video to be extremely informative, as well as objective.

Cooperation in the Federal Court System

Federal criminal prosecutions are handled in a much more formal manner. In the Federal court system, the issue of cooperation is much different than what we see at the state court level. In the Federal system, special formalities and agreements exist. They involve both the District Attorney and at least one law enforcement agency; usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the Federal arena, cooperation is prevalent and can be a factor to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. The following language is contained within a Plea and Cooperation Agreement:

"If the defendant commits any crimes or if any of the defendant's statements or testimony prove to be knowingly false, misleading, or materially incomplete, or if the defendant otherwise violates this Plea and Cooperation Agreement in any way, the government will no longer be bound by its representations to the defendant concerning the limits on criminal prosecution and sentencing as set forth herein."

Don't do it alone. Our attorneys can help you determine the best course of action when it comes to dealing with your drug charges in the court system or the route of cooperating with the government. At times, cooperation with law enforcement may be a viable option. In the Federal system, it is routinely utilized in the plea bargaining and sentencing process. However, cooperation needs to be explored for each case on an individual basis by an experienced criminal defense attorney. Keep in mind that it is the client makes the ultimate decision whether to engage in cooperation or undercover operations with law enforcement officers. An attorney will look at the case from every angle, including the prospect of cooperation and whether drug charges can be fought and won. In addition, various Michigan statutes enable qualified offenders to obtain plea agreements for dismissals.


Frequently Asked Criminal Law Questions: Can my case be dismissed if I wasn't advised of my Miranda Rights? Am I entitled to make a phone call if I am arrested?

September 6, 2012,

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There is a pattern of "frequently asked questions" in the field of criminal law. This blog is dedicated to answer a couple of those questions. This blog is not intended to provide a one-size-fits-all dissertation on the covered subjects but only a short synopsis with some other references linked-in for further research if you are interested. It is important to understand that entire law books have been published regarding the Bill of Rights (4th, 5th and 6th Amendments) and other particular legal issues such as "possession".

Remember: When the mistakes by the police add up, you may be entitled to a dismissal or suppression of evidence. Even minor mistakes may weaken the case to the extent that the charges are reduced.

Can my case be dismissed if I wasn't advised of my Miranda Rights?
The answer is usually NO with some exceptions.

This is probably the Number 1 question that we are asked when someone is charged with a crime. In 1966, the Supreme Court held that Miranda Warnings by the police are required to protect a person suspected of a crime pursuant to the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination during police interrogation. When the police have other evidence to proceed against a person, the person's own statements may not be necessary. Therefore, should the person's own statements be excluded (based upon Miranda violations), the State may proceed against the person based upon other independent evidence and witnesses. We are often asked this question in the realm of drunk driving cases. Consider the following example:

Example: Assume that a person admits to drinking 4 beers after being stopped for a DUI. The accused may argue that the statements are not admissible because he wasn't given his Miranda warnings or because the statements were involuntary. Even if the attorney is able to have the statements suppressed (inadmissible at trial), the prosecutor may still proceed with other evidence such as the chemical test (BAC result from blood or breath), witnesses (police or civilians) who viewed the conduct of the accused, the accused's ability to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FST), etc.

Please be advised that when statements of the accused are suppressed, the Court may also suppress any other evidence derived from the inadmissible statements pursuant to the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine. When substantial evidence is suppressed (held inadmissible), the case may be dismissed or quashed.

Again, please remember that entire books and treatises have been written on the subject of Miranda Warnings (BOOK LINK).

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Do I have the right to make a phone call if I am arrested?
The answer is NO.

I do not know of any law in Michigan that allows someone the right to make a phone call upon being arrested. However, some police agencies have adopted regulations which allow an arrested person to make a phone call in the furtherance of Miranda Warnings which provide that a person has a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney

The right to make a phone call is a misnomer since it is actually not a right at all. It is merely a formality which allows an arrested party to call family members or an attorney. Should the police deny a person the right to call an attorney, there may be a legally arguable Constitutional issue. At the very least, we would argue to suppress any statements or information gathered from a suspect who is questioned after being denied a phone call (to his attorney) on the 5th and 6th Amendment grounds (self-incrimination and denial of right to counsel).

Take another look at the image which is posted at the top of this blog.
This scenario raises at least 14 questions which our criminal defense attorneys would ask:

1. Is the person/suspect in custody (not free to leave)?
2. Was the person/suspect validly arrested or detained?
3. Is the person/suspect under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
4. How long has the person/suspect been detained?
5. Was the person/suspect intimidated by the officer (armed and in uniform)?
6. Is the person/suspect suffering any mental condition?
7. Was the person/suspect coerced, threatened or intimidated?
8. Was the person/suspect denied nutrition and rest room facilities?
9. Did the person/suspect ask for an attorney during questioning which was denied?
10. Does the person/suspect take any medications which could impair his judgment?
11. Was the person/accused deprived of sleep or rest?
12. What is the age, intelligence level (IQ) of the person/suspect?
13. WAS THE PERSON ADVISED OF HIS MIRANDA RIGHTS?
14. WAS THE PERSON ALLOWED TO MAKE A PHONE CALL?

Violation of Miranda Rights or the ability to make a phone call can provide a basis for a motion to quash (dismiss) or suppress evidence. For this reason, every detail and fact is important when you talk to your lawyer.

Some excellent video references:

Ten Rules When Dealing With Police (Video)
Don't Talk to the Police (Video)
The Proper Way to Handle a Police Stop (Video)

If you have a question, please visit our website and send the question which we will attempt to answer and may even consider making it the subject of a future blog.

Links to some other frequently asked questions:

Can I be charged with a crime if only one person says I did it and there are no other witnesses or evidence?

Do court appointed lawyers work for the police and prosecutor?


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Federal Criminal Cases In Michigan

January 4, 2012,

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In the United States, there are crimes which may be prosecuted at the State level based upon violations of State laws. A Federal crime is one which involves a violation of a Federal law. Many criminal offenses may fall under the jurisdiction of both the State and Federal laws and either or both branches of government may prosecute. The doctrine of double jeopardy does not preclude both State and Federal prosecutions under the doctrine of dual sovereignty.

There are literally thousands of Federal laws. Many Federal crimes are listed in Title 18 of the United States Code. In addition, there are several Federal agencies with authority to investigate Federal offenses including: Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), United States Marshal Service (USMC), United States Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security. Postal Inspectors investigate any crime in which the U.S. Mail is used to further a crime by use of the mail, telephone, or on the Internet (mailfraud).

In Michigan,United States Districts Courts (Federal courts) are located in Detroit (Eastern District), Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Port Huron, Flint and the upper peninsula. Federal criminal defense attorneys are required to adhere to the Federal Court Rules. The formalities, procedure, sentence guidelines and process of the Federal courts are inherently stricter than the State courts. All of this means that anyone faced with a Federal criminal investigation or Federal criminal charge(s) should retain a qualified Federal criminal defense lawyer.

If you are contacted by any Federal law enforcement agency concerning an investigation, you should immediately consult with an attorney. The Federal criminal justice system is fraught with legal traps. As soon as you talk, you may face an indictment for lying to a Federal agent which can carry 5 years in prison. It is always best to obtain the business card of the agent or obtain a name and telephone number.

It is serious business when our law firm receives a call from a client who is the subject of a Federal investigation or is indicted for a Federal crime. A Federal search warrant will almost always result in the seizure of documents, financial records and computers. An arrest may occur at the same time of the search. However, criminal charges (indictment) may not occur for many months (or even years) after a criminal investigation or search and seizure. During the pendency of a Federal case, a criminal defense attorney will explore all possible options with the United States Attorney/USA (Prosecutor) including cooperation, plea agreements (Rule 11) and trial.

Federal crimes may necessitate the need for a criminal lawyer that specializes. Federal crimes include but are not limited to the following: mail fraud, tax fraud, drug crimes, internet crimes, federal sex crimes (use of the internet), gambling crimes, bank/financial crimes, Medicaid fraud, racketeering, money laundering, computer fraud, pollution, crimes upon waterways or upon federal property and identity theft. At our firm, we are associated with Federal criminal lawyers throughout Michigan. In addition, we can arrange for legal representation by experienced and qualified Federal criminal attorneys anywhere in the United States of America in all areas of specialty.

Possession of Drugs, Guns, Stolen Property & Child Porn; Michigan and Federal Laws Do Not Require Actual Possession

March 25, 2010,

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When a client is charged with a crime which involves "possession", our Macomb County criminal defense attorneys delve into the facts and details of the case, along with the applicable Michigan laws, which pertains to the issue of possession. For example, all drug crimes require the element of possession. This blog is about the applicable Michigan laws which are applied or argued when the issue of "possession" is an element in a criminal case.

Many Michigan criminal laws, especially drug crimes and stolen property laws, contain an element or requirement of "possession". Possession of child pornography cases invariably involves legal arguments by criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors regarding the issue of possession. In this regard, specialized computer forensics or other technical evidence is used by law enforcement to establish the element of "possession" and by criminal defense attorneys to contest the issue. Michigan laws which make possession in and of itself the crime allows for arrests and convictions without proving the use or sale of a prohibited item.

There are several terms which are used to describe different types of possession. For example, possession may be constructive, illegal, joint, legal, physical, or sole. Historically, actual possession was required for a criminal possession conviction. In other words, a person could not be charged with a crime unless he was "caught red handed" with the illegal property. In the 1920s, courts expanded criminal possession to include "constructive possession". In an early Michigan criminal case to use constructive possession, the court found a defendant guilty of possessing illegal liquor in trunks in the actual possession of another person (People v. Vander Heide, 211 Mich. 1, 178 N.W. 78 [1920]). Later cases, especially narcotics cases, have continued to expand the law of criminal possession.

Possession versus Ownership: Possession is not the same as ownership. The phrase "possession is nine-tenths of the law," is often used to suggest that someone who possesses property can face legal consequences. The owner of an object may not always possess it.

Actual possession is what most of us think of as possession-that is, having physical custody or control of an object" (United States v. Nenadich, 689 F.Supp. 285 [S.D. N.Y. 1988]). Actual possession, also sometimes called possession in fact, is used to describe immediate physical contact. Frequently, a set of facts clearly indicate that an individual has possession of an object but that he or she has no physical contact with it. To properly deal with these situations, courts have broadened the scope of possession beyond actual possession.

Constructive possession is a legal theory used to extend possession to situations where a person has no hands-on custody of an object. Constructive possession is frequently used in cases involving drugs, guns and stolen property in Michigan criminal cases. Constructive possession, also sometimes called "possession in law," exists where a person has the ability to control the object even if the person has no physical contact with it. For example, people often keep important papers and other valuable items in a bank safety deposit box. Although they do not have actual physical custody of these items, they do have knowledge of the items and the ability to exercise control over them. For legal purposes, they are considered to have constructive possession of the contents of the safety deposit box.

Link to Blog: Proving Possession In Drug Crimes

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