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The term “queen for a day” in the legal context refers to a written agreement between federal prosecutors and a person suspected of a crime. Under the agreement, you agree to tell the government about your knowledge of criminal activity, and in turn, the prosecutor agrees not to use your statements against you in any later proceeding.
Queen for a day legal is sometimes referred to as
a proffer letter or
a proffer agreement.
Prosecutors often make proffer agreements with the understanding that they will make a plea deal with the suspect that is part of the agreement. But a prosecutor will likely refuse or nullify any potential deal if a suspect provides false or misleading statements concerning a crime.
Note that there are some risks to entering into a queen-for-a-day agreement. Namely, prosecutors may be able to:
charge you with a crime, despite any plea deal, if your statements lead them to new evidence of a crime, and
use your statements against you if you later testify as a witness.
1. What is a proffer letter?
Proffer letters are used in criminal cases involving allegations of federal crimes. The letters work as an agreement between federal prosecutors and a person suspected of a crime or a criminal defendant.1
The terms of the agreement are usually that the suspect or defendant must tell the truth regarding certain criminal activity, and in return, prosecutors will not use the person’s statements against him/her in any later proceeding.2
If you enter the agreement, you will tell prosecutors about an alleged crime orally at a “proffer session.” The session is attended by the suspect/defendant and:
Prosecutors and suspects typically enter into proffer agreements with the informal understanding that the government will enter into a plea agreement with the suspect if it is satisfied with the person’s proffer statements.
But note that the proffer letter itself will not set forth any specific promises of a plea-bargaining agreement. There is only an informal understanding of a deal.
Further, prosecutors will refuse any future plea bargain if a suspect, during the course of a proffer session:
makes false statements,
fails to tell the truth, or
minimizes his or her involvement in an alleged crime.3
In these instances, prosecutors will likely charge the suspect with a crime by derivative use of the person’s statements that he/she made during the proffer session. If the person is later found guilty of a crime, a judge can sentence the person in accordance with the federal sentencing guidelines.
3. Is there a risk for you to enter into a proffer agreement?
There can be. While prosecutors cannot use your proffer statements against you, they can use them to help law enforcement further or expand a federal criminal investigation.
If, during the course of this investigation, a prosecutor finds new evidence showing that you committed a crime, the prosecutor can use it to:
file criminal charges against you, and
try to convict you of a crime.4
In addition, prosecutors can use your proffer statements for impeachment purposes if you:
testify as a witness in a criminal proceeding, and
offer testimony that is inconsistent with your proffer statements.
“Impeachment” means a prosecutor can offer evidence (here, your proffer statements), to cast doubt on your credibility as a witness.5
But note that a proffer agreement might be worth the risk if you are likely to face criminal prosecution and need the protection of a plea deal.
4. Can a defense lawyer help?
Yes. If you are suspected of a federal offense (for example, a white-collar crime), you should consult with a criminal lawyer or law firm that practices in federal courts.
A criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case and provide advice as to whether it is in your best interests to:
pursue a queen for the day legal,
cooperate with the government, and
speak to federal prosecutors.
Note that sometimes prosecutors enter into a queen for a day agreement with a government witness.
Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Impeachment.”
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.