The Old Sacramento Bridge

Legal Counsel and Cooperation Agreements

Be Cautious When Making Deals with Law Enforcement

Some people facing criminal charges find it to their benefit to aid law enforcement with its investigation or prosecution in exchange for a reduction, or even dismissal, of charges. But a decision by the First Appellate Court of California in early 2010 highlights the need for caution on the part of defendants when considering these cooperation agreements, and the importance of seeking the guidance of quality legal counsel.

The Role of the District Attorney's Office v. the Police Department

The central point of the court's decision is that only the district attorney's office has the authority to reduce criminal charges in exchange for assistance from the defendant. The court's reasoning on the issue of cooperation agreements goes like this:

While the police (and sheriff or CHP) have the authority to make arrests, it's the district attorney's office that actually files criminal charges. We have this arrangement because it's efficient (it allows people to specialize) but also to keep one person (or group of people) from having too much power. The court said that the authority to prosecute, or not, must rest solely with the district attorney's office to preserve this distribution of power.

Detrimental Reliance

The appellate court did say that a cooperation agreement made between the defendant and police without approval by the D.A.'s office could be enforced if there exists some violation of the defendant's due process rights (e.g., unwittingly giving up the right to counsel or incriminating oneself). When this "detrimental reliance" occurs, then the cooperation agreement is considered valid.

The Need for Quality Criminal Defense Counsel

This case highlights the need for people accused of a crime to seek the aid of a quality criminal defense lawyer. The legal system is confusing and intimidating even from a distance. It becomes overwhelming when you're arrested. A good defense attorney will advise you on your rights and protect your long-term interests throughout the process, including discussions with police and the district attorney about reduction or dismissal of charges.

Free and Confidential Consultation

I've practiced criminal law in the Sacramento region for nearly 20 years. My previous experience as a major crimes prosecutor helps me fight for my clients and build an effective defense. Call me at 916-442-1200 to discuss your case.

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