Just What is Transactional Immunity?

Let’s say a friend and I decide to set out on a protest mission against animal cruelty and we start a series of fires around the state at privately owned slaughter houses.  We also release wild horses being held in a Bureau of Land Management facility and light the corrals on fire.  At some point, we get caught.  Faced with years in prison, I agree to a plea deal that includes cooperating with the prosecution by giving details of every fire my friend and I started while on our crime spree, including the fire at the BLM’s wild horse facility.  My end of the deal includes only facing one charge of arson, and the prosecution agrees to give me transactional immunity.  What does that mean?

Transactional immunity is described here as follows:

Immunity from prosecution for an individual is generally sought when that individual has information necessary to the public interest, but has refused or is likely to refuse to testify or provide the information on the basis of the privilege against self-incrimination. There are different types of immunity that may be granted in exchange for a person’s testimony.

Transactional immunity bars any subsequent action against the immunized person, regardless of the source of the evidence against that person.

This website offers an example of a bank robber receiving transactional immunity in exchange for giving details of the crimes he committed.  These details include the fact that the robber used some of the stolen money to purchase cocaine, another illegal act.  However, because of his transactional immunity, he cannot be charged for this purchase of cocaine.

Now, back to my hypothetical acts of arson.  After reviewing my record the judge finds I have no prior criminal charges, and believing that I acted on a strongly held belief against animal cruelty, she determines I made mistakes and decides to give me another chance.  She believes I understand the gravity of my mistakes and will not commit them again, and gives me a light sentence.  So I made my deal and I serve the short sentence I receive for my single charge.  I get out of prison and return to a productive life.  I believe the entire ordeal brought on by my rash decisions to be behind me.

However, the federal government decides to bring a charge of arson on federal property against my friend and I.  This charge means that I once again find myself back in court, because the federal government is not bound to the transactional immunity the state granted me in my plea deal.  Imagine my surprise when I’m sentenced to a federal charge of arson and am sent back to prison for five years!

Of course, this is a made up scenario and I certainly have no intention of starting any fires that aren’t in my wood stove, fire ring, or barbecue.  So, why did I feel the need to write this short blurb describing transactional immunity?  Well, I wanted to write this because transactional immunity plays an important role in the very real, un-made-up, story I’m currently working on.  Stay tuned…

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