In drug cases, judges usually sentence a convicted felon to certain punishments based on the Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code. Penalties are contingent upon the severity of the crime, which schedule the drug belongs to, the amount in question, the defendant’s criminal history, and the presence of any aggravating factors.
The courts do not often sway very far from the penalties provided in the statutes. However, the court may depart from the penalty standards if a defendant provides “substantial assistance,” or serves as a confidential informant.
Below, we discuss what providing substantial assistance entails, and what the potential benefits and pitfalls are. If you are facing drug charges, weigh your options very carefully before deciding to provide assistance to law enforcement. Talk to a Goldman Wetzel drug crimes defense lawyer today about your case.
What is substantial assistance?
A defendant provides substantial assistance when s/he provides inside information or otherwise helps law enforcement in controlled substance cases. In exchange for the defendant’s help, the prosecutor can ask the judge to reduce or discard the defendant’s penalties.
Florida Statute § 893.135(4) states: “The state attorney may move the sentencing court to reduce or suspend the sentence of any person who is convicted of a violation of this section and who provides substantial assistance in the identification, arrest, or conviction of any of that person’s accomplices, accessories, coconspirators, or principals or of any other person engaged in trafficking in controlled substances.”
Rendering substantial assistance could involve:
- Helping set someone or a group of people up;
- Identifying perpetrators;
- Providing information about drug transactions; or
- Assisting in the capture/conviction of an accomplice or other drug dealer.
What are the benefits and pitfalls of being an informant?
The obvious benefit to providing substantial assistance is that the defendant may lead to the state reducing or even dropping charges altogether. In many drug cases, an informant will avoid incarceration and get off with mere probation when s/he provides substantial assistance.
However, there are serious drawbacks to consider. Informants may be endangering themselves and their families by providing substantial assistance, not to mention ostracizing themselves from their communities. In an effort to protect the safety of informants, courts sometimes conduct hearings involving substantial assistance “in camera” (i.e., privately); the public does not have access to these types of proceedings.
The risk of safety breaches is still a major concern in drug cases. Defendants should carefully consider any substantial assistance deals before moving forward with their case.
Should I provide substantial assistance for my drug case?
If you have been charged with a drug crime and are considering providing substantial assistance to reduce or work off your sentence, call our office in St. Petersburg to discuss your case first.
While being an informant might be an effective mitigatory tool for your case, you should reserve it as a last resort. When we review your case, we will determine if you can use any other viable defenses instead of placing yourself in danger.
Call Goldman Wetzel today at 727-828-3900.