Understanding the two types of immunity

On Behalf of | Nov 19, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Often, people who are facing charges – particularly when they involve criminal activity that involves multiple people – have information that can be valuable to law enforcement and prosecutors. That information can be a bargaining chip to get their own charges dismissed or prevent them from facing further charges. That can involve seeking some type of immunity. 

You don’t necessarily have to be part of a large criminal enterprise to seek immunity. If you have evidence or are willing to testify against even one person who’s committed a more serious offense than you and whom authorities have had a difficult time catching or building a case against, you may be able to seek immunity for your cooperation. Let’s look at the two types of immunity.

Transactional immunity

Also known as “blanket” immunity, this is the best (and most difficult) type to get. If you’re granted this, prosecutors are agreeing not to prosecute you for your role in any illegal activities associated with the case they’re investigating.

For example, maybe you have sold illegal drugs in relatively small amounts to individual buyers. However, you obtained the drugs from someone who imports significant amounts from outside the country and sells them to low-level dealers. They’re anxious to catch and convict this person. Therefore, in exchange for your cooperation and testimony, they agree not to prosecute you for your activity.

That immunity is not a “get out of jail free” card for the rest of your life. If you’re arrested for an unrelated crime, that immunity won’t help.

Use immunity

This type of immunity (sometimes called “derivative use” immunity) is the most commonly granted type – largely because it’s more limited. It basically prevents people from being able to “plead the Fifth” because their testimony could incriminate them by taking that possibility off the table. It allows someone to testify and/or provide evidence of someone else’s criminal activity freely without risking the information they provide being used (through derivative use) against them. 

In the example above, if you testify that your supplier sold illegal drugs to you to sell to individuals, that testimony couldn’t be used against you. That doesn’t mean, however, that if they obtain information about your alleged illegal activity from other sources, they can’t use that to arrest and charge you.

You should never try to negotiate for immunity on your own. It requires experienced legal guidance.

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