What is “use” immunity?

In any criminal trial, prosecutors usually seek to build their case on as much “hard” evidence as possible – but they sometimes need “soft” evidence, like eyewitness testimony, to help tie a case together.

That can be a problem when the interests of the state are at odds with the rights of a witness to avoid self-incrimination. That’s when “use immunity” may come into play.

How use immunity works

Essentially, once use immunity is granted to a witness in a criminal proceeding, nothing they say can be used against them by prosecutors. This allows the witness to testify in grand jury proceedings or at someone’s trial without fear that their statements under oath will later be used against them.

How would this work in practice? Consider this example: A mid-level employee in an investment firm was involved in a “pump-and-dump” scheme perpetuated by their bosses. The employee felt trapped in the situation for one reason or another, but they were fully aware that their actions were illegal. 

The employee has crucial information that the prosecution needs to incriminate their bosses – but they can’t admit what they know without self-incrimination. If the prosecutor is more interested in putting the investment firm’s bosses in prison than they are the mid-level employee, they may offer the employee use immunity to compel them to testify. 

This does not offer blanket protection from prosecution, however. If the prosecution can independently put together evidence against the witness that’s unrelated to their immunized testimony, the witness can still face charges for any crimes they admit to during the proceedings. 

If a prosecutor is talking about offering you immunity in a white-collar criminal proceeding, make sure that you fully understand what that means – and could mean in the future – before you accept. Legal guidance can help you avoid serious mistakes.

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