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10/15/09 8:30 Pm

10/15/09 8:30 Pm

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L
EIMBACH
10/15/09
 
8:30 PM
173
MINIMIZING THE RISK OF INJUSTICE INCOOPERATION AGREEMENTS
D
AVID
L
EIMBACH
*
This article explores many of the arguments for and against the use of plea-bargainingin exchange for testimony. From the perspective of achieving justice, allowingcooperation agreements can be risky especially because they may place an undue pressure on the part of a co-conspirator to commit perjury in order to secure adesirable bargain. At the same time, cooperation agreements currently serve animportant role in the operation of our judicial system. This article concludes that a perse prohibition on testimony given in exchange for a plea-bargain is unnecessary and instead describes a set of safeguards, which collectively mitigate the risks of sucharrangements to a sufficient degree.
I.
 
I
NTRODUCTION
.......................................................................................174
 
II.
 
H
ISTORY
................................................................................................174
 
III.
 
T
HE
P
RO
/C
ON
D
EBATE
...........................................................................175
 
A.
 
Benefits.......................................................................................176
 
1.
 
Efficiency..............................................................................176
 
2.
 
Avoiding Uncertainty at Trial..............................................176
 
3.
 
An Essential Prosecutorial Tool..........................................177
 
B.
 
Risks............................................................................................178
 
1.
 
Principle of Due Desert........................................................178
 
2.
 
Unduly Coercive...................................................................179
 
3.
 
Incites Perjury.......................................................................179
 
IV.
 
A S
TANDARD FOR
P
ERMISSIBILITY
........................................................180
 
A.
 
Disclosure and Cross-Examination...........................................180
 
B.
 
Jury Instruction...........................................................................180
 
C.
 
Corroboration..............................................................................181
 
D.
 
Strictly Limited Contingency....................................................181
 
E.
 
Proportionality Condition..........................................................182
 
V.
 
C
ONCLUSION
........................................................................................182
 
* David Leimbach is a member of the class of 2010 at Dartmouth College double majoring inMathematics and Philosophy.
 
L
EIMBACH
10/15/09
 
8:30 PM
174
THE DARTMOUTH LAW JOURNAL
Vol. VII:2
I. I
NTRODUCTION
 Although plea-bargaining – the process by which defendants pleadguilty in exchange for some form of leniency agreement – has been thesubject of much controversy among academics, it occupies a fundamentalrole in the current operation of our judicial system. In our current systemapproximately 90% of cases end with a guilty plea and a substantialproportion of these guilty please arise out of plea-bargains.
1
A particularlyinteresting subset of plea-bargains, from a theoretical point of view, arethose offered in exchange for testimony. These cases raise importantquestions beyond the traditional arguments for and against plea-bargainingbecause they involve the rights of the party to be testified against and ofteninclude reduced punishments for individuals culpable of truly heinouscrimes.In this paper I present and respond to some of the most prominentarguments against the state’s use of plea-bargaining in exchange fortestimony. I conclude that a per se prohibition on testimony given inexchange for a plea-bargain is unnecessary and instead propose a set of safeguards designed to mitigate the risks of such arrangements. The courtshould consider the satisfaction of these criteria in determining whether theuse of a testimony obtained in exchange for a plea-bargain is permissible ina particular case.II. H
ISTORY
 The practice of testifying in exchange for leniency has roots in earlycommon law when English courts would allow accomplices to accuse theirco-conspirators and would offer a pardon upon conviction. In these earlycases, the incentive to lie was extreme because a failure to convict the co-conspirator usually resulted in execution for the original defendant.
2
Thepractice fell out of favor due to the likelihood of perjury and was replacedwith the practice of “turning King’s evidence.”
3
The American legal systeminherited this tradition. In 1878, the Supreme Court ruled on
The WhiskeyCases
and officially recognized the prosecutor’s unilateral right to enterinto cooperation agreements,
4
and in 1892, the Court handed down a rulingpermitting the use of accomplice testimony despite the fact that the
1
Yvette A. Beeman,
 Accomplice Testimony Under Contingent Plea Agreements
, 72C
ORNELL
L. R
EV
. 800 (1987).
2
Spencer Martinez,
 Bargaining for Testimony: Bias of Witnesses Who Testify in Exchange for Leniency
, 47 Clev. St. L. Rev. 141, 143 (1999).
3
Supra
note 1 at 800-801.
4
99 U.S. 594, 599 (1878).
 
L
EIMBACH
.
DOC
-0 10/15/09
 
8:30 PM
Summer 2009
COOPERATION AGREEMENTS 
175
accomplice was an interested party.
5
 
Since then, cooperation agreementshave played a significant role in the American judicial system,
6
includingagreements that have been at least partially contingent on the results of thetrial after the testimony was already given.
7
 The debate over plea-agreements in exchange for testimony flared in1998 as a result of a holding in
United States v. Singleton
. The courtconvicted a Kansas woman for money laundering and conspiracy todistribute cocaine after hearing testimony from an accomplice whoreceived leniency. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned thedecision on the grounds that the prosecution’s cooperation agreementviolated a federal bribery statute. On rehearing
en banc
, the Tenth Circuitvacated the Singleton I decision and supported the original ruling of thedistrict court.
8
Nevertheless, Singleton I sparked a wave of appeals and aseries of opinions weighing in on the issue of plea-bargaining in exchangefor testimony.III. T
HE
P
RO
/C
ON
D
EBATE
 Plea-bargaining in exchange for testimony is a particularly contentiouspart of an already thorny issue. As a result, there is a sizable back-and-forthliterature discussing the advantages and disadvantages of this practice. Byexamining these arguments carefully, we hope to better understand whatwe would lose by implementing a per se prohibition on such arrangementsand what we risk by allowing them to continue. The goal of this paper is tooffer a path that allows us to both capture as many benefits and avoid asmany risks as possible.
5
 
See
Benson v. United States, 146 U.S. 325, 337 (1892).
6
 
See
United States v. Santabello, 404 U.S. 257, 260 (1971) (stating that plea-bargaining isan “essential component of the administration of justice”); United States v. Anderson, 654 F.2d1264, 1268 (8th Cir. 1981) (holding that accomplice testimony may by itself sustain a convictionwithout corroboration; United States v. Fitts, 635 F.2d 664, 667 (8th Cir. 1980); United States v.Knight, 547 F.2d 75, 76 (8th Cir. 1976); Williams v. United States, 328 F.2d 256, 259 (8th Cir.1964); United States v. Dailey, 759 F.2d 192 (1st Cir. 1985) (allowing at least partially contingentcooperation agreements); United States v. Fallon, 776 F.2d 727, 729 (7th Cir. 1985) (alsoupholding contingent agreements).
7
 
See
United States v. Dailey, 759 F.2d 192 (1st Cir. 1985); United States v. Fallon, 776 F.2d727, 729 (7th Cir. 1985); United States v. Waterman, 732 F.2d 1527 (1984),
vacated en banc,
No.83-2159 (8th Cir. Sept. 20, 1984),
cert. denied,
471 U.S. 1065 (1985).
8
United States v. Singleton, 165 F.3d 1297, 1298 (10th Cir. 1998).

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