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Federal Sentence Reductions for Substantial Cooperation

November 2, 2021 Federal Criminal Attorneys
Federal Sentence Reductions for Substantial Cooperation

The Possibility of Federal Sentence Reductions for Substantial Assistance

The federal court recognizes that knowledge has value. In cases that involve organized crime, they will use information from lower-level offenders to prosecute defendants further up the chain. In return for their cooperation, these defendants may see a reduction in their sentences. If you are facing federal charges, providing substantial assistance to federal prosecutors may be a wise strategy.

Substantial Assistance in Federal Law

Leniency for substantial assistance has been part of the criminal code since the publication of the Rules for Criminal Procedure in 1946. In its earliest form, the law allowed the court to offer leniency for several reasons include defendant cooperation.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 brought greater specificity to the idea of substantial assistance. This document created a quid pro quo arrangement where defendants could exchange information for lower sentences.

A further revision came from the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This law instructed prosecutors to use sentence reduction as an incentive to encourage the sharing of information. The substantial assistance motion became a weapon in the fight against the organized drug trade.

What is substantial assistance?

Federal law does not provide a specific definition of substantial assistance. The court has some leeway in deciding whether a defendant’s information is helpful in a way that deserves a sentence reduction. If a defendant provides information that is inaccurate or unhelpful, it will not qualify as substantial. They might also provide accurate information that the prosecution already knows.

Substantial assistance typically falls into three categories. The most public assistance is testifying in a courtroom against another defendant. Another type of cooperation involves actively participating in an investigation. Finally, the defendant can provide information through a statement or interview to aid the investigation of a criminal enterprise.

Who is eligible for a sentence reduction?

Federal law reserves substantial assistance reductions for defendants who provide information about someone other than themselves. Self-incrimination may result in some leniency, but it does not qualify as substantial assistance under the current statutes.

Most sentence reductions stem from information about criminal organizations. Because of the link to the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the majority of substantial assistance transactions relate to federal drug charges. Prosecutors hope that they can gain information that will help them arrest the leadership of drug-related organizations. The illegal weapons trade is another area where information from low-level offenders can prevent more serious crimes.

Two Types of Sentence Reduction Motions

The criminal code provides two options for the timing of sentence reductions for substantial assistance. Most frequently, prosecutors offer this arrangement at the time of sentencing. This type of sentence reduction is known as a 5K1.1 order because of its place in the criminal code. Defendants are more likely to have relevant information and will be more motivated to share it at the time of sentencing.

Drug and weapons-related crimes often have minimum sentencing requirements. However, the substantial assistance statutes allow the court to bypass these rules. When defendants know the amount of jail time they are looking at, it provides a greater incentive for cooperation at the time of sentencing.

The second possibility for substantial assistance is a sentence reduction after the initial sentencing. In a 35(b) reduction, prosecutors approach defendants when they are serving out a sentence. It may be that a continued investigation into a criminal enterprise leads back to the defendant. If the defendant can provide vital information, it may result in a reduction. Because of their distance in time from the original offenses, 35(b) sentence reductions are usually smaller than those from 5K1.1 motions.

In most cases, prosecutors must file 35(b) motions within a year of the original sentencing. However, there can be exceptions that allow for a longer timeline. A defendant might receive new information critical to a case from another inmate while in custody. In a complicated investigation, prosecutors may only realize that they need a defendant’s knowledge years after the initial sentencing.

The Decision to Provide Assistance

Deciding to share information with a federal prosecutor should not be taken lightly. A careful strategy coordinated with your attorney offers the best chance of a meaningful sentence reduction.

A knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyer will understand the benefits and limitations of substantial assistance motions. They will help you determine the value of your information and the best time to share it. Your attorney will work with the court system to give you a fair sentence reduction while protecting your interests.



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