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Should I cooperate with the Feds in Jacksonville?

Answer:

No, you should not. I wrote about this subject, generally, back in June of 2014, where I discussed the pros and cons of cooperating with prosecutors in order to get a better deal. Based on my recent experience, however, I am now firmly of the opinion, as a Jacksonville criminal lawyer, that cooperation, or informing on your friends and co-defendants in order to get a better deal, is a waste of time and counterproductive in in Jacksonville.

I base this on my recent experience in the matter of USA v. Larry Taylor. My client, Mr. Taylor, is a 49 year old man who was involved in a scheme to help manufacture and cash counterfeit checks. He was stopped in a car, with another person (his eventual co-defendant); the police searched the car and discovered 13 counterfeit checks which totaled $2,924.24. Mr. Taylor also had some driver's licenses that did not belong to him. Taylor was charged first in state court with possessing forged checks. The case was eventually transferred to federal court, where Taylor was charged with and aiding and abetting the attempted passing of counterfeit checks.

Taylor decided to cooperate with the feds. He was debriefed and told the authorities about all of the people he was involved with who made and passed counterfeit checks. Because of the information he provided, the feds raided a hotel room, arrested another individual and seized computer media, check printing supplies and other material associated with the manufacture of commercial counterfeit checks. Taylor also informed on his co-defendant, causing him to plead guilty.

Taylor had an extensive criminal record, but many of the crimes he committed in the past were minor. Based on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Taylor scored a criminal history category of IV (4 on a scale from 1 to 6). His offense level was scored, after various adjustments, as a level 5. That gave him a range of imprisonment of 4-10 months for his crime. At his sentencing, because of his cooperation, the prosecutor filed what is known as a 5K1 letter on Taylor's behalf, to bring his sentence even lower. The prosecutor recommended a two level reduction of his sentence. This caused Taylor sentence range to be reduced to 0-6 months. The prosecutor recommended that Taylor be sentenced to time served. I, of course, joined in that recommendation. But the judge had other ideas. Completely on her own, (and because of Taylor's criminal history) the judge decided that Taylor was being treated too lightly. So she arbitrarily upped his sentence to 20 months. At the end of the day, all that Taylor had done for the feds came to nothing.

Lesson Learned:

When the feds ask you to cooperate with them, a agreement is signed, known as a proffer letter. Implied in this agreement is that the prosecutors will do the right thing by you. The right thing was not done by Mr. Taylor. While the prosecutor did keep his word and did recommend a lower sentence for Taylor, he only recommended a two level reduction. What does this mean? Usually, this means only a six month reduction in one's sentence. Considering that a person is required to inform on everyone he knows that is involved in any criminal activity (even family members), exposing them to arrest and prosecution, six months off a sentence is not much of a reward. But that's pretty much all the reduction that federal prosecutors in Jacksonville will offer. And in this instance, the judge rejected it all. Of course, a judge is free to reject any plea deal, but in my experience it rarely happens. It happens even less when the prosecutor himself stands up and recommends a lower sentence.

When a judge does this, it sends a chilling message to all those who might seek to cooperate in the future and trust the Government. In fact, it gives them little incentive to come forward. Mr. Taylor would have been better off keeping his mouth shut and then when released from jail, not have to live with the title of 'rat' or 'snitch', looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. Because cooperation is not rewarded or valued in Jacksonville, I will recommend that none of my future clients cooperate with the government. It's just not worth it

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