What Does Immunity Mean in a Criminal Case?

I have represented numerous individuals over the years who have been offered one form of immunity or another by the prosecution. Normally the situation goes something like this: My client is alleged to have been somehow involved in a criminal enterprise that included one or more accomplices. In an effort to secure a conviction against one or more other parties, my client is offered immunity to testify against the other individuals.

Sounds simple, right? Not so much. The reality is that there are two different types of immunity, and certain offers of immunity are far more favorable than others.

Testimonial Immunity

The most common form of immunity is called "testimonial immunity". Testimonial immunity means that nothing that you testify to after the grant of immunity may be used against you in your own trial. This is commonly used in cases of co-conspirators. Basically it is a way to get around the witness's right to assert their 5th Amendment privilege to not say anything at all. The prosecution assures them that nothing that they testify to will be used against them in any way. The problem with testimonial immunity is that it does not prevent the government from prosecuting the individual for the offenses that they are testifying about; it simply means that they have to prove the case without using any of the statements made by the individual after the grant of testimonial immunity.

This sounds fine, but there may be other ways for the government to prove its case against you. For example, you may have already confessed prior to the grant of immunity, in which case that confession could still be used against you. Or there may be other witnesses or forensic evidence that can prove the case without using your testimony. So testimonial immunity is not all it's cracked up to be.

Transactional Immunity

On the other hand, "transactional immunity" is quite a gift. Transactional immunity means that not only can the testimony not be used against them, but the individual can't be prosecuted at all for the subject offenses. Transactional immunity functions as an absolute bar to prosecution for any offenses for which a witness is called to testify.

Contact My Firm for a Free Consultation

If you are facing charges, or if you have been offered some arrangement for immunity and have not consulted with a lawyer, call our office right now! We can help you navigate this complex area of law. Your freedom may depend upon the quality of counsel you receive!

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