Cooperating with the police can help or completely backfire.
Suppose the police arrest someone for a minor drug offense, and the officers suggest they cooperate and help prosecute others. Good idea? Maybe not.
To Cooperate or Not to Cooperate, that is the Question
Police and federal agents are notorious for trying to “flip” people by turning them into confidential informants. Cooperating with the police can include providing information regarding others’ illegal activities, performing controlled buys, wearing a wire or other surveillance technology, arranging meetings or introductions, testifying at a trial or grand jury, and more. The decision of whether to cooperate with law enforcement is fraught with danger and risk. In some cases, cooperation might be in the individual’s best interest; however, steps must be taken to ensure the cooperator benefits from promises and representations made by police or federal agents. So, if you are asking, “does it help to cooperate with the police?” you’ve come to the right place.
Cooperation is Not Limited to Drug Cases
The most common type of cooperation involves a person arrested for drug possession, intent to deliver, or delivery of a controlled substance. Investigators handling these matters are mandated to use confidential informants and work their way “up the chain of command” to get more prominent dealers or drug traffickers. In addition to drug cases, law enforcement officers also seek cooperation in the following types of cases:
- RICO (Organized Crime or Gang Activity)
- Healthcare Fraud
- Unemployment Fraud
- Medicare and Medicaid Fraud
- Destruction or Theft of Postal Service Property
- Violent Crimes (such as Murder, Kidnapping, Carjacking, etc.)
- Tax Fraud
- Bank Fraud
- Wire Fraud and Money Laundering
- Credit Card and Financial Transaction Device Fraud
- Immigration-Related Crimes (Such as Human Trafficking and Immigration Fraud)
- Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, and Other Sex Crimes
- Child Pornography or SCAM
- Malicious Destruction of Property or Buildings
- Sex Trafficking
- Arson, and many more.
Lying Police and Federal Agents and Other Dangers of Cooperation
The most obvious danger of cooperating with the police, including state or federal law enforcement, is that the cooperator, often viewed as a “snitch,” might face physical retaliation, like an assault or even murder. A cooperator’s family can also be endangered. If the cooperation relates to a criminal allegation involving their employment, the cooperator may find it difficult to reenter their career field.
Another significant danger includes police and federal agents who make promises they cannot keep. Investigators make unfulfillable promises more frequently than you might think, especially to cooperators without knowledgeable legal representation. Police can legally lie to suspects to manipulate them into incriminating themselves or believing their situation is catastrophic. They can be so convincing that a suspect becomes convinced that they have no other option but to become an informant. In reality, this is rarely the truth. Under Michigan and Federal law, a law enforcement officer’s promise to drop or reduce charges, or seek a lenient sentence, is not enforceable. Additionally, police rarely specify precisely what they will do in exchange for cooperation, leaving a suspect to hope for the best and then face great disappointment when it comes time for the police to step up and follow through on these representations.
How to Get a Benefit from Cooperating with the Police
Many individuals facing criminal allegations will not cooperate or become informants under any circumstances. Law enforcement quickly determines those suspects operating under a “no cooperation” code or a conviction against “snitching” on other people. Although some people will not cooperate, others desire to cooperate and attempt to improve their situation or avoid charges.
Most law enforcement officers and agents, particularly state-level police officers, will do everything they can to influence a potential cooperator not to seek the advice of counsel or hire a criminal defense attorney. They do this to make it easier to control and take advantage of scared, anxious people who are desperate to help themselves, not because it is in their suspect’s best interest. A common threat made by police officers and detectives, particularly those dealing with narcotics, is that if the individual hires a lawyer, the police will no longer work with them and immediately charge them in court.
Cooperating with police and other law enforcement agents has advantages and disadvantages. Hiring a criminal defense attorney is the best decision a person can make if they want to get the most out of their cooperation with law enforcement. There is no reason to proceed without a criminal defense lawyer to ensure their client receives the benefit of any promises or other inducements. A seasoned lawyer will know how to document or preserve evidence of law enforcement representations and get state and federal prosecutors to agree in writing that any beneficial cooperation results in a proportionate benefit. Bargains made by county prosecutors and Assistant United States Attorneys are legally enforceable in court.
“Will law enforcement protect me if I cooperate?”
Police officers and federal agents will always promise or represent that they will protect someone whose assistance they seek in an investigation. Unfortunately, some officers could care less if their informant’s cooperation endangers them. On the other hand, many officers and federal agents will go to extreme lengths to protect someone and their family if their cooperation and information are helpful. A savvy, experienced lawyer can help their client understand the limitations of protection and, potentially, negotiate for maximum security for the client’s family or other individuals who might be in harm’s way.
“Should I cooperate with the police or not?
The best answer is “maybe.” Cooperation with law enforcement can result in the lessening of charges and sometimes the dismissal of all charges. Judges typically consider cooperation favorably and will order less prison and jail for those defendants who have provided substantial assistance to the government. Conversely, cooperation can have dire consequences in almost every part of a person’s life.
Deciding whether to cooperate is significantly consequential and must not be made lightly. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you work through the advantages and disadvantages of working with law enforcement. They can frequently provide vital assistance in ensuring that you benefit from any help or assistance you provide. Although police will do everything they can to encourage someone not to seek a lawyer’s advice, they rarely follow through with a threat to abandon a person who seeks to help them build cases, solve crimes, and assist in prosecuting others. Don’t fall for that trick!
Veteran Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys
The criminal defense attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience successfully protecting and defending clients charged with serious offenses in courts throughout Michigan. We maintain an excellent rapport with law enforcement and prosecutors in virtually every jurisdiction. Call us immediately if you face felony or misdemeanor charges in state or federal court, and the police have suggested that cooperation is an option to improve your circumstances. We will help you understand your options to make the best possible choice on how to proceed. We can work with you to choose the path in your best interest. Our attorneys can help reduce your exposure to various types of potential consequences. Call us, and we will take the time to talk with you, answer your questions, and address each of your concerns. Don’t go it alone; the risks are too high to take chances.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.