What if a law enforcement officer makes me an offer during a police stop or during questioning?
UPDATED: September 21, 2011
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A law enforcement officer can make you an offer that is not connected to a prosecution. Consult an attorney before accepting the offer. One example of an offer is, “If you let me search your purse, I will not search your car.” Another example of a police offer is, "If you tell me the truth, I will make sure the judge goes easy on you." Keep in mind that a police officer is probably under no obligation to honor any deal, and if a deal is not honored you are likely to have little recourse. In fact, police regularly use this ploy during interrogation techniques and traffic stops to persuade someone to allow them to search or to provide incriminating information that will end up allowing the officer to arrest and charge the person with a crime.
Consider whether the officer has a valid warrant, probable cause, or exception to the warrant requirement to search or seize you or your property. This is difficult. Each state has different rules regarding exceptions to the warrant requirement. In certain situations, a law enforcement officer may not have to tell you whether they have a warrant, probable cause, or exception to the warrant requirement to search or arrest you. If the officer does not have a warrant or probable cause, and there is no exception to the warrant requirement, any search would be illegal and evidence obtained from that search may be thrown out. Furthermore, there is never any reason to provide information to law enforcement except under the advice and assistance of a criminal lawyer if you think there is even a remote possibility you may be considered a suspect.
Offers Regarding Prosecution
A law enforcement officer may state an offer regarding a prosecution. Even if you accept, a prosecutor can override this offer. Any deals regarding a prosecution should be made with a prosecutor, in writing, and with the assistance of your attorney. There are typically two types of offers: substantial assistance agreements and plea bargains. A substantial assistance agreement requires that you provide substantial assistance to a prosecutor to investigate or prosecute another criminal case. In exchange, the prosecutor may choose not to prosecute you, drop charges from your case, charge you with a lesser offense, or agree to recommend that the judge give you a light sentence.
A plea bargain usually requires that you plea, either guilty or no contest, to an offense. In exchange, a prosecutor may drop charges from your case, charge you with a lesser offense, or agree to recommend that the judge give you a light sentence. Written substantial assistance agreements and plea bargains are usually signed by the defendant and the prosecutor. Some plea bargains are oral.
Judges Obligation in Plea Bargains
A judge is not bound by the terms of a plea bargain or a substantial assistance agreement. If the judge feels that you should face a harsher penalty than that which the prosecutor has recommended, he or she can sentence you to the maximum penalty for the charge. If the prosecutor does not abide by the terms of either type of offer, the defendant can motion the court for a hearing on the prosecutor’s wrongful action. The defendant can also appeal the sentence, or ask for a hearing after sentencing to reduce their penalty.