If you have information about a crime committed by someone else, prosecutors may be so anxious to get that information that they’re willing to dismiss any charges you’re facing – or decline to bring charges they may be considering bringing against you. At least they may be willing to not use your own words against you.
It’s typically best to cooperate with law enforcement – without giving up your constitutional rights. That includes the right against self-incrimination. That’s why if providing prosecutors with the information and evidence they’re seeking against someone else puts your Fifth Amendment rights at risk, they may be willing to grant some type of immunity.
You don’t have to be part of a vast criminal conspiracy to seek immunity. Even if you played a minor role in a crime, if you can help prosecutors get the evidence they need to prosecute someone they consider a more serious offender, you may be able to avoid charges.
There are two primary types of immunity. Let’s look briefly at them.
Use (“derivative use”) immunity
This is the most common type of immunity granted by prosecutors. It takes away any need to “take the Fifth” because it means that a person won’t be prosecuted for anything they admit to while testifying about an alleged crime. The “derivative use” means they also can’t use a person’s testimony to go digging up evidence with which to prosecute them.
This immunity is limited because if they were to get evidence from other sources they didn’t learn about through your testimony, it doesn’t protect you. If another witness comes forward, for example, with evidence against you, they can use that.
Transactional (“blanket”) immunity
This is obviously the preferable type of immunity to receive – although it’s granted less commonly. If you’re given blanket immunity, prosecutors won’t charge you with any alleged crime related to the case they’re investigating, regardless of how they obtain the evidence.
Blanket immunity may be used when prosecutors are after a “big fish,” so to speak, and need the full, honest testimony of others who may have committed lesser or fewer offenses to get it. Note that this doesn’t mean you have immunity for any other unrelated offenses you may be charged with in the future.
Immunity is never something you want to agree to or try to negotiate on your own. You need experienced legal representation to protect your rights and fully understand your options.