Interesting new law review article on how federal defense attorneys (mostly CJA panel attorneys) perceive cooperation rates and opportunities for their (mostly) drug clients: Why Criminal Defendants Cooperate: The Defense Attorney’s Perspective. The authors surveyed defense counsel in three large federal districts (SDNY, EDPA, EDVA) and found, unsurprisingly, that cooperation is largely driven by the promise of sentencing benefits — precisely what federal mandatory minimums and the US Sentencing Guidelines are designed to do.
Perhaps more surprisingly, when the authors asked defense attorneys whether “cooperation agreements are the product of a fair process,” on a scale from 1 (completely disagree) to 9 (completely agree), the “average rating [was] 3.17. Such a low average indicates that federal defense attorneys who participated in this study felt that cooperation agreements are not the product of a fair process.” Even former prosecutors in the sample only gave the process 4 out of 9 for fairness. Recall that this study was performed in one of the most regulated, transparent, and lawyered arenas of cooperation: by hypothesis all the defendants in these cases were represented by experienced counsel who negotiated formal cooperation deals on their behalf in the relatively well-resourced elite space of the federal judiciary. Just imagine how much more unfair the cooperation process gets where police and prosecutors pressure vulnerable, unrepresented suspects to cooperate informally. For some particularly egregious examples, see this prior post: How police turn teens into informants.