What is a Cooperation Agreement?
In criminal cases prosecutors will often charge a notable defendant with count after count of felonies in order to persuade that defendant to help the state get to bigger fish. They threaten the smaller fish with a lifetime of imprisonment in order to give him the necessary encouragement to turn on his companions in crime. Prosecutors then present a “friendly” alternative to the unfortunate defendant in the form of a cooperation agreement. The cooperation agreement will promise the defendant something in his favor, such as staying a prison sentence, in exchange for receiving the defendant’s help to catch other individuals committing crimes, usually individuals higher up in a criminal enterprise. The cooperation agreement sets forth in writing very specific terms and a provision that the defendant must comply with all of the terms of the arrangement in order to receive the benefit of not going to prison, jail, or avoiding other consequences.
The Terrazas Case
Recently the Utah Court of Appeals addressed the standard that should be applied when determining if a cooperation agreement has been violated. In State vs. Terrazas, the defendant had been charged with a number of felonies and misdemeanors in different cases. It came to be known that the defendant had some involvement with the Ogden Trece gang. They worked out a cooperation agreement with Terrazas that if provided information that would allow the state to prosecute three identified high-ranking members of the Ogden Trece gang that his prison sentences would be stayed. He had pleaded guilty to a number of different felonies and misdemeanors and the judge stayed the prison sentences because he had entered into the cooperation agreement.
Terrazas began to comply with the cooperation agreement by doing controlled buys with members of the Trece gang, but over time he became lackadaisical in his compliance. Additionally he started selling controlled substances outside of the terms of the cooperation agreement. Eventually the police had enough of his noncopmliance and allowed Terrazas to get arrested for selling meth. At a sentence review hearing the state argued that Terrazas violated the cooperation agreement and so his original sentence should be imposed. The district court agreed and imposed the original prison sentence.
On appeal Terrazas argued that the same standard for a probation violation should apply to his case for determining whether he violated his cooperation agreement. The Utah Court of Appeals found that the standard applied in a probation violation hearing does not apply to a cooperation agreement.