If you face charges in federal court, inevitably a assistant us attorney will ask you to consider signing a proffer letter and to begin cooperating with them in an investigation. What is a proffer letter? The Wikipedia entry for proffer letter states:
In U.S. criminal law, a proffer letter, proffer agreement, proffer, or “Queen for a Day” letter is a written agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant or prospective witness that allows the defendant or witness to give the prosecutor information about an alleged crime, while limiting the prosecutor’s ability to use that information against him or herWiki Entry
Deciding to sign a proffer letter is one of the most significant and excruciating steps for any of our federal clients to make. Here are three things you need to know before you sign a proffer letter.
Signing a Proffer Letter is a Legal, Moral, and Safety Calculation. You Must Make Peace with It.
If you have a problem with “snitching” we are not going to judge you if you refuse to sign a proffer letter. On the other hand, if you have children at home and you decide to sign a proffer letter, we will stand by you 100%. The point is this: it is your choice.
Many federal criminal lawyers will tell you that you will be buried under a federal prison with a very long sentence if you don’t cooperate with the feds. The truth is, that could be true. However, at Seddiq Law we respect our client’s choices.
If you cooperate you may actually be putting yourself in physical danger. There have been cooperating witnesses murdered prior to testifying. The threat is real and sometimes the ability of federal agents to protect you is not sufficient.
The Proffer Letter is NOT a Plea Agreement.
Clients often get confused about the purpose of a proffer letter. Again, all jurisdictions are different but a proffer letter is more of a job interview. The prosecutor is going to interview you and see if what you are saying is true. Or, better said: what THEY think the truth is.
We found a sample proffer letter that was floating around on the internet. This one is quite a few years old but you can get the drift. All proffer letters are slightly different but for the most part each federal us attorney’s office has a similar template that they go off of.
Unfortunately, if your information is not helpful to their case they are not going to use you as a witness. If they think you will be helpful they will then make you a plea agreement that has cooperation as a term of the the plea agreement.
The Proffer Letter is Supposed to Protect You, But it Doesn’t Always Do That.
In some form or fashion, in almost every proffer letter, the prosecutor is going to agree to not use what you say in your “job interview” against you. The purpose of this is to get you comfortable speaking to them. However this protection comes with many hidden traps.
Specifically, if the prosecutor believes that you have either 1) not been truthful or 2) not fully disclosed everything then they CAN use what you say in the job interview against you. What is so dangerous about that? Well, it is because the prosecutors get to decide what is truthful and/or complete information. You need to be very prepared for any interview with a prosecutor before you choose to meet with them. If a proffer session goes poorly it can have a devastating effect on the future of your case.
Mirriam Z. Seddiq and Justin Eisele handle state and federal criminal defense in New York, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Arkansas. They have over 35 years of combined trial and appellate experience. If you would like a free consultation, call 301.513.7832. We answer our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.