Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Natapoff launches 'Snitching Blog'

I'm pleased to learn that one of my favorite thinkers on criminal justice topics - Loyola (CA) law prof Alexandra Natapoff - has launched the "Snitching Blog" to focus on issues surrounding confidential informants (something I've encouraged her to do for at least the last three years!). Her "About" page opens with this description of the site's subject:
snitching = when police or prosecutors offer lenience to criminal suspects in exchange for information or cooperation

Snitching Blog is devoted to a part of our criminal system that most people know little or nothing about: criminal informants, or "snitches." At any given moment, thousands of informants are in the system trying to work off their own criminal liability by giving information to the government. These informants may be in court, in prison, on the street, or in the workplace. Police and prosecutors often rely heavily on information obtained from snitches. This is especially true in drug enforcement, but also for investigations of white collar crime, organized crime, and terrorism. In fact, it is impossible to fully understand the U.S. legal system without understanding snitching. Nevertheless, snitching remains shrouded in secrecy and confusion.

One of Natapoff's earliest posts focuses on a recent Texas case where the murderer of a drug informant turned out to be another government informant, making a number of salient points which fall into the "wish I'd said it" category.

I should also mention (since she didn't include it in her sidebar links) that Natapoff is the author of an excellent, extended law review article on the subject of informants which influenced my own views on the topic a great deal and inspired much of Grits' coverage. She's now expanded that paper into a book that will be released in November, which I'm quite looking forward to reviewing.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Alexandra! I'll be reading!

2 comments:

b said...

Wonderful job, Grits. Thank you for beginning with an accurate definition of the term “snitch.” I agree with the usage of this word in regards to those who are providing information to avoid or lessen their own prosecution.
Various Human-source programs (Confidential Informant programs) are beneficial to law enforcement and to society at large. The issue is the tendency for law enforcement to group whistle-blowers and others who feel morally obligated to work with the shield in the same program as murderers and other nefarious individuals who are “snitching” to avoid prosecution.
Clearly, many informants who are avoiding prosecution have an incentive to be dishonest when their freedom (or lack of freedom) is directly correlated with the “bust” they produce. This entire dynamic creates an increased likelihood of false convictions and innocent citizens having to go through trials and/or sentences.
On the flip side, any person who comes forward to prevent a bombing, an attack against a provider of reproductive services, an attack on the President, etc.: is also placed under the same Human Source program as those who are avoiding prosecution. Often times, the networks or groups intending to commit a violent crime prove difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate in a time-specific manner. The ability of law enforcement to stop such a crime is dependent on the initial information provider’s willingness to help. It‘s awful for such a person to be placed in the same program as a murderer.
The various Human Source programs utilized by law enforcement should be divided into separate programs- creating a division based upon the motivations of the “informants.” Such a division would be beneficial for many reasons. First of all, many more well-intentioned citizens who are aware of potentially dangerous situations or crimes would be willing to come forward and work with law enforcement if they weren’t immediately grouped with such nefarious folks. Secondly, the use of “snitches” would be easier to challenge if such programs didn’t have the more altruistic members included in the ranks.
To be clear, if the programs that make the use of “snitches” possible were forced to stand on their own, so to speak, without having their numbers and averages boosted to acceptable levels by the more well-intentioned folks being a part of the group, then such programs would be much easier for social justice folks to do away with or to fundamentally alter. Of course, creating such a division would be a difficult task, as law enforcement and prosecutors know that their current use of “snitches” would fundamentally change if they didn’t have the well-intentioned folks to use as examples to justify their programs.

Anonymous said...

Thaz right no snitching!

My homeboy Grits settles it all, doing a drive a drive by on your house, straight up gangster style; no pigs or snitches involved. Word.