Monday, September 25, 2006

Snitching critics here and there

Two items from the West Coast on snitching merit readers' attention:
  • First, see ACLU of Northern California's 12-page letter (pdf) to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice regarding confidential informants, including several recommendations for preventing wrongful convictions. Good job, folks! More on this later, but I wanted to get the link out there. Meanwhile,
  • CrimProf Bog reports on an upcoming discussion of snitch testimony between an ADA, an exoneree, and a law prof, sponsored by the Northern California Innocence Project next week (Oct. 5) in Santa Clara. Obviously I can't attend, but hopefully some West Coast legal blogger can go and let us know what's said. (Or I'd encourage any blog-less reader in attendance to take notes and send them my way - if you did I'd post highlights.)
In other snitch-related news, I understand the estimable Sasha Natapoff is working on another op ed on informants - I'm looking forward to it. Her piece in Slate, "Bait and Snitch,"was a big hit, widely linked and cited, while her major academic article on the subject, which Grits linked and discussed here, remains perhaps the most important recent written work on the topic - e.g., it was frequently cited in the footnotes of ACLU of Northern California's letter.

Speaking of Natapoff, this summer I posted about her exciting motion idea requesting a "reliability hearing" for informants similar to those required of other compensated witnesses like "experts." Indeed, requiring such hearings by statute was one of the recommendations in the ACLU letter. Natapoff never got a ruling on that motion, she informed me, but a couple of Grits commenters said they planned to give it a shot - I'd love to hear the result if anybody ever actually tried it in court and got a ruling.

Mendacious snitches are the single most common cause of wrongful convictions. If a judge won't order such hearings, legislatures should require them by statute.


Jason said...

I believe there have been court cases addressing this. For example, if an anonymous person calls in saying a green man with a pink shirt is carrying a gun and leaves no way to contact later on, then the police simply cannot find a green man with a pink shirt and frisk them for any weapons.

Also, aren't there times when informants (I like how the term snitch is used like an insult)? How about a scared kid who makes an anonymous tip that his neighbor was talking about coming to school to shoot up the place? Would all the talk left and innocence project people refer to him/her as a snitch with disdain?

Look at why New Orleans had a high unsolved murder rate. Anyone who cooperated with the police & prosecution were usually intimidated and killed. How do you address witness safety?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've written quite a bit in the past, Jason, about the difference between "snitches" and witnesses. Bottom line, snitches receive some compensation: a reduced sentence, cash, privileges in prison, etc.

No one is for witness intimidation by criminals. Some of us just also oppose witness intimidation by police. If a defendant pays a witness for alibi testimony, it's tampering. If the prosecution pays a witness to bust that alibi (even if the "payment" is a reduced sentence, though sometimes cash), that's considered good police work. How is that just?