Perspectives by Macomb County Drug Crimes Lawyer: Cooperation/Acting as an Informant for the Police

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What does it mean to provide cooperation, snitch or be an informant for the police?

Cooperation, using the little fish to get the big fish, is a major law enforcement tactic utilized everywhere and every day in the United States to gain information that would otherwise be next to impossible to obtain. This practice is also used extensively in the County of Macomb as a means to frustrate illegal drug activity.

The concept of “cooperation” with the police (also called “snitching” or “acting as an informant”) occurs when the police utilize an informant to obtain the information that would otherwise be difficult to discover.  Those asked to provide cooperation are usually in trouble with the law (busted for a drug crime) and are promised consideration in the legal system in return for providing assistance. Assistance is expected to be substantial and typically involves undercover work with narcotics agents or special units.  The informant may later be required to testify as a witness in subsequent court proceedings unless given protection as a confidential informant (CI).

The use of informants by the government is a dynamic tool in the war on drugs to:

  • Make other busts, raids, seizures
  • Support an arrest or search warrant
  • Bolster connections to infiltrate criminal enterprises
  • Go after bigger perpetrators, drug dealers
  • Make progress in an investigation

Cooperation: Getting into Something that is Over Your Head

As we explain in this publication, one that becomes an informant, without full disclosure and the advice from an experienced drug crime defense lawyer, faces an uncertain destiny.  The following are a few of the risks associated with cooperation with the police:

  • Your safety is not assured
  • Your assistance may be declared insufficient by the police
  • Criminal charges may still be pursued against you
  • Cooperation ends when the police say it ends
  • Cooperation may require engaging in bigger drug deals than justified under the circumstances to get a deal in the legal system

Our typical client that is asked to cooperate is a vulnerable suburban youth that is caught with drugs. Cooperation (snitching) is usually arranged while the accused person is in police custody and without any contact with family members or a criminal defense lawyer with experience handling drug crimes. While in custody, the police will persuade the party with incentives to cooperate that include: immediate release from jail and consideration to dismiss or reduce the charges. Upon being released from jail, the unwary person will be instructed to contact an undercover officer for further instructions and discouraged from contacting a criminal defense lawyer.

An individual that chooses the informant route is placing trust with the same law enforcement officers that have conflicting interests and will later be called as adverse witnesses in any subsequent prosecution.

What the Police Won’t Tell You about Cooperation Can Hurt You

The police are not required to give legal advice or explain every other possible option when attempting to engage an individual to become an informant.  Here are just a few legal rights that you forego when you agree to cooperate with the police:

  • 4th Amendment Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches
  • 5th Amendment Constitutional right to remain silent
  • 6th Amendment Constitutional right to an attorney
  • Your right to assert legal defenses to the alleged criminal charges (mere presence, lack of possession)

In addition to the above, the police won’t tell you that most drug crimes are manageable in the court system with the services of a criminal defense lawyer. Scare tactics are not uncommon as a means to harvest an informant who is lead to believe that there is no hope in the legal system without providing cooperation.  In fact, the majority of offenders are not looking at jail, may be eligible to get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor and have other excellent options to get the charge(s) dismissed pursuant to MCL 333.7411 or HYTA without providing any cooperation whatsoever to the police!

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 Federal 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.”

Busted for Drugs? Hire and Experienced Drug Crime Lawyer

When someone is arrested for a misdemeanor or felony drug crime, the arresting agency may attempt to recruit the party to act as an informant. This is almost accompanied by an offer of preferential treatment in the criminal justice system.  Cooperation (acting as an informant) has its risks, especially for someone that is not faced with serious drug charges but winds up doing dangerous major undercover drug transactions without ever getting sound legal advice. There are times when cooperation is an option. In the Federal system, it is routinely utilized in the plea bargaining and in the sentencing process. However, cooperation needs to be explored on a case-by-case basis to determine if it the best course of legal action.

As we explain in this article and our website, most drug crimes (misdemeanor or felony) can be resolved without jail. In addition, first time offenders and youthful offenders may be entitled to a disposition under the Michigan Penal Code to have a drug crime dismissed, expunged and sealed!