If you're not an attorney, reporter, private investigator or opposition researcher, you've probably never had cause to view these types of records. But I sure have, and I can tell you that they're absolutely essential to keeping our justice system even minimally accountable.
“We are getting a pretty significant push from the Justice Department to take plea agreements off the electronic file entirely,” Judge Tunheim said. “But it is important to have our files accessible. I really do not want to see a situation in which plea agreements are routinely sealed or kept out of the electronic record.”
Judge Tunheim said his committee was working on recommendations for a nationwide approach to the issue. He said he favored putting the details of a witness’s cooperation into a separate document and sealing only that document, or withholding it from the court file entirely.
We have public trials in this country, court documents and evidence are open records, and defendants have the right to face their accusers in open court. It would be an unconscionable travesty of justice to seal information about witness cooperation - if a witness testifying against a defendant had ulterior motives, the public has a right to know. Often snitches are used in more than one case and it's important for defendants to be able to learn about the history, pro and con, of witnesses against them. The only way to do that is to make these records about witness cooperation publicly available.
See significant discussions of Liptak's article in the comments at Sentencing Law and Policy and Slashdot, and also prior Grits posts on snitching.