Local Law Enforcement Is Not Immune from Federal Prosecution and Why It Is Important to Conduct a Thorough Criminal Defense Investigation

Federal law enforcement could arrest anyone, even those working for other law enforcement agencies. The same standards apply whether the suspect is an officer of the law or not. Probable cause is needed before an arrest can be made and the person is innocent until proven guilty. If you’re facing an investigation by a federal agency or are under arrest, contact Marc Grano today to protect your rights and freedom.

One person who learned this lesson is Vidal Sandoval. He is a former deputy Colfax County sheriff who plead guilty in 2016 to federal charges of drug trafficking and theft of government property. In December 2014, he took $7,500 in cash from two motorists whom he thought were drug traffickers, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. What Sandoval did not know is they were undercover FBI agents.

Sandoval accepted $10,000 in cash, two months later to escort what he thought were illegal drugs through Colfax County in Colorado. He drove his patrol car to Wagon Mound, in uniform, where he met a driver (an undercover agent) he believed was a drug trafficker, who gave him cash. Sandoval drove ahead of the other car into Colorado, where he accepted more cash, then returned to New Mexico.

Sandoval was sentenced in February to serve 87 months in prison, then four years of supervised release, and the forfeiture of $19,500 in proceeds from his crimes, according to the DOJ.

Being in local law enforcement does not make a person from criminal investigation. In some situations, it may hurt you if a federal agency is investigating you for possible criminal charges.

  • Law enforcement officers feel a bond, though that will break depending on the circumstances
  • Given the public trust that we place in law enforcement, breaking that trust may expose you to an increased sentence.
  • The US Attorney’s Office will usually expend extensive time and resources in an investigation prior to filing federal charges.

However, once that agency commits to pursuing an investigation and an arrest is made, prosecutors may be very tough when negotiating a plea agreement. The agency and the US Attorney may feel they need to “make an example” of you.

In the more recent press release, US Attorney John C. Anderson is quoted as saying, “The defendant’s offenses represent a profound breach of a sacred public trust. The people of Colfax County entrusted defendant with the authority to enforce the laws and the responsibility to keep the public safe...we will and we must ensure the integrity of law enforcement by holding accountable those few officers who betray the public trust for their personal gain.”

Sandoval’s situation also illustrates why we always, as part of our investigation into our client’s case, conduct a thorough defense investigation, including requesting and obtaining all personnel files for any law enforcement officers involved in the cases we defend. More than once we have found damaging information in the officer's background which helped the defense of our clients. There may be evidence of past misconduct or information that could be used to question an officer’s credibility if he or she testifies in court. As this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer shows, there are bad apples and like any other witness, an officer’s credibility may be tested in court and on the witness stand.

If you are under investigation by a federal agency or are under arrest, as a former New Mexico prosecutor, I have the knowledge, insight, and confidence you need to feel like you are leveraging the power of a strategic criminal defense attorney. You can reach out to my office today for a strategy session. I will make sure you understand the charge(s), potential penalties, your rights, conduct an initial assessment of your case and tell you how we can help you. Request yours today by calling (505) 587-8649. Or you can complete my convenient and secure contact form.


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