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A proffer is an opportunity to cooperate with prosecutors to mitigate your sentence.
A friend of Prison Professors contributed to this post.
How I Prepared For My Proffer
As a criminal defendant, the main benefit sought from a proffer is to reduce a sentence through cooperation with the federal government.
Almost 10 years ago, I was indicted by the federal government for wire fraud and money laundering. I hired a criminal defense lawyer specializing in financial crimes, who came highly recommended by people I trust.
I quickly developed a relationship of trust with my criminal lawyer. I faced decades in prison and felt like my life was completely in my lawyer’s hands.
My lawyer and I decided that my best bet was to walk into the US Attorney’s Office and cooperate. I knew that I would have to trust my lawyer’s instincts, tell prosecutors everything I could about my crime and cooperate against my co-defendants, admit my conduct and get ready to be held accountable.
My Attorney-Client Relationship
If there is no trust, the proffer process is enough to break you. I was very fortunate that I had good chemistry with my lawyer, and I trusted him. I trusted the people that referred him, so I placed my hopes on his experience and his instincts.
When you get charged with a crime, it is easy to feel like the whole world is against you. Many people I met during my journey through the criminal justice system did not trust their lawyers and did not feel like their lawyer was 100% with them. That is unfortunate. Having a good relationship with your lawyer helps a lot to get through the ups and downs of those early days.
Deciding to cooperate is complicated. I had to come to terms with the fact that I could not deny my participation, and I had to come clean. Having a good rapport with my lawyer helped me get there.
My lawyer also helped me accept that I would have to discuss my relationships with other people under investigation and find all the relevant evidence on my phone and computer. I trusted my lawyer with even the most embarrassing information, knowing that the attorney-client privilege means that he could not break my confidences.
Don’t Lie to Prosecutors
It is a federal crime to lie to law enforcement agents and prosecutors at any point. That includes proffers. My lawyer used the example of a former client charged for making false statements during a proffer session to over-emphasize the need to be truthful. Unless he were sure I was ready to tell the truth, he would not greenlight my proffer agreement. I was not about to compound my problems with federal law enforcement by lying, and we went forward with an agreement.
Make Time To Prepare With Your Lawyer
I did not prepare the same day or the day before. My lawyer met with me a week in advance and then again two days before. We had a conference call the morning of the meeting and arrived early for any final discussions. I felt very prepared and very comfortable by the time we walked in. I guess they call it “queen for a day” because all eyes are on you for most of the meeting, and everyone is taking notes.
Although it was a busy time in my life then, I was glad that I spent enough hours preparing with my lawyer. These in-person meetings enhanced our relationship of trust too.
Bring a Humble And Straightforward Attitude
By the time my first proffer session arrived, I was ready to approach the situation with humility. I felt remorse and was anxious about the future. I brought an attitude of regret and was ready to answer questions directly. By then, I was done denying my reality. I understood that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict me. In prep sessions, my lawyer helped me find the words I would need to describe my conduct honestly and open up. Prosecutors needed to see my acceptance of responsibility for my actions. They also needed to see I was not exaggerating other people’s roles or minimizing my own.
Process The Experience
The decision to proffer, with its consequences, was hard. My lawyer was trustworthy and helpful. But I also needed someone to help me process this experience on a more personal level. There was only so much he could do to help me process the personal and emotional toll that the criminal case was taking. A trusted college friend provided unending support during those days. I would not have done well if I had to bottle everything inside and only had my lawyer to speak with about the case and the proffer. It was too hard on my close family members to discuss the ins and outs of my situation or the fact that I became a cooperator.
Still, I was mindful that talking to a friend is not a privileged communication like it is with a spouse, pastor, or lawyer. In my case, I also sought privileged communications with a spiritual advisor, and that helped me in a big way.
Find A Stress Buster
Like many people, I lost my job after getting arrested. The criminal case uprooted my whole life. My network of friends disappeared, and my old routines were gone. My case lasted several years before I went away to serve prison time. At first, my refuge was comfort foods and alcohol, which only compounded my stress and misery. Once I made peace with my mistakes and began to take responsibility for my actions, I also stopped drinking, ate better, and started exercising. That made a world of difference.
Consult Your Lawyer During Proffer
During the proffer session, I requested private consultation with my lawyer a few times. While this is not a privilege to abuse, my lawyer instructed me not to be afraid to ask for a break when I needed to consult.
Other things to be mindful of during a proffer session:
- Listen to the questions from the government carefully.
- Ask for clarification if I don’t understand.
- Politely disagree with the factual premise of a question, but never appear annoyed or miffed. Don’t argue or act defensive when answering questions.
- Speak clearly, don’t be afraid to clarify a prior answer if additional details come to mind.
- Don’t assume and don’t volunteer information that is not asked.
- Take it one question at a time and try not to rush.
- Prosecutors and agents have their own agenda, so don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by their friendly demeanor.
- Don’t hesitate to say you don’t remember or don’t recall if that is the full and honest answer to a question. Do not exaggerate or minimize.
All of those rules helped me get through the proffer.
Anyone who is a target or a defendant in a federal investigation and is considering cooperation with the government, look for experienced defense counsel who understands the proffer process and you can trust.