Understanding Use Immunity and Transactional Immunity in California

In the realm of criminal law, the concept of immunity plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the rights of individuals while aiding law enforcement in the pursuit of justice. Two types of immunity often discussed in legal circles are “use immunity” and “transactional immunity.” These immunities are powerful tools that can significantly impact criminal cases in California.

Use Immunity vs. Transactional Immunity

Use immunity and transactional immunity are legal mechanisms that shield individuals from self-incrimination when testifying in criminal proceedings for both felonies and misdemeanors. However, they differ in terms of the scope of protection they offer.

In California, use immunity is governed by Penal Code section 930. Use immunity provides protection against the use of the individual’s compelled testimony and any evidence derived directly from it against them in a subsequent criminal prosecution. This means that while the witness cannot be prosecuted based solely on their compelled testimony, they may still face charges if independent evidence is discovered.

Transactional immunity, while rarely granted in California, is governed by Penal Code section 1324. Transactional immunity offers broader protection than use immunity. It grants immunity not only for the compelled testimony but also for any crimes related to that testimony. This means that if a witness is granted transactional immunity, they cannot be prosecuted for any offense connected to the subject matter of their testimony.

Rights Relinquished When Testifying Under Immunity

When a witness testifies under a grant of immunity, they do not completely relinquish their constitutional rights. However, witnesses must be aware of certain limitations.

Right Against Self-Incrimination: The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and section 15 of the California Constitution guarantee the right against self-incrimination. Immunity protects this right by ensuring that the witness’s compelled testimony cannot be used against them in a subsequent criminal prosecution. However, this protection is limited to the scope of the immunity granted.

Right to Remain Silent: Witnesses still have the right to remain silent and can choose not to answer specific questions if they believe the answer might incriminate them beyond the scope of the immunity provided. This is an essential safeguard for witnesses testifying under immunity.

Perjury Risk: Witnesses testifying under immunity must also be aware of the risk of perjury charges. If they provide false information while under oath, they can be prosecuted for perjury, which is a separate offense. Thus, while immunity protects against self-incrimination, it does not give witnesses free rein to make false statements.

Immunity in Plea Deals

In criminal cases, immunity can often play a crucial role in plea negotiations. Defense attorneys may seek immunity for their clients as part of a plea bargain, especially if the client possesses information that could be valuable to the prosecution.

Cooperation Agreements: Immunity is frequently used as a bargaining chip in cooperation agreements. A defendant who agrees to cooperate with law enforcement or provide information about other criminal activities may receive use immunity or, in rare cases, transactional immunity in exchange for their assistance.

Reduced Charges: Prosecutors may offer reduced charges or more favorable sentencing recommendations in exchange for a defendant's cooperation and truthful testimony. The extent of immunity granted will depend on the nature of the cooperation and the information provided.

Risk Assessment: While immunity can provide protection, it may also expose the client to potential charges if they fail to comply with the terms of the agreement or if new evidence arises.

Use immunity and transactional immunity are powerful tools in the world of criminal law, providing witnesses with protection against self-incrimination while aiding law enforcement in their pursuit of justice. As a criminal defense attorney in California, understanding these immunities and their implications is essential when representing clients facing criminal charges.

If you are facing charges for a crime and have valuable information that could be used in exchange for immunity, it is absolutely critical that you discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive experience in plea negotiations and gaining immunity for clients.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at (888) 334-6344 or (323) 464-6453.

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