Compromised Justice? Selling Case Details to Would-be Snitches

A must-read USA Today report published on December 14 (here) places a spotlight on a process rarely revealed to those outside the justice system: The role of the snitch in making federal cases…and in reducing sentences. While DNA proven wrongful convictions have shown that snitches can be a questionable source for information, the use of snitches continues to be widespread. So much so that credible case information is a currency for getting out of jail sooner.

Imprisoned bank robber Marcus Watkins is not the first to recognize that there could be a profitable business in selling case details to defendants and convicts desperate to reduce their sentences.

As reported, “For a fee, Watkins and his associates on the outside sold them (other inmates) information about other criminals that they could turn around and offer up to federal agents in hopes of shaving off their prison sentences.”

At stake: a decade or more of prison time that could be clipped off one’s sentence. That makes a detail on a case or suspect very valuable, especially in a system that provides little opportunity to escape a long sentence.

According to article, in federal cases, “Nearly everyone charged is convicted. They usually face the prospect of a lengthy prison term, driven by long minimum sentences for drug crimes and sentencing rules that leave judges little leeway to make exceptions – unless they cooperate. Often, becoming an informant is the only chance defendants have.”

A spokesman for the Atlanta U.S. Attorney’s office said that an investigation is ongoing to determine if any cases were compromised by Watkins’ enterprise.

USA Today’s report should at least prompt a broader discussion and re-consideration of this perfect storm for compromised justice. When plea bargaining creates a currency in information traded for reduced prison time—especially in a justice system in which conviction rates are high and mandatory sentences long—we must question this practice’s cost in compromised credibility not only in each case but in the justice system itself.

One response to “Compromised Justice? Selling Case Details to Would-be Snitches

  1. Docile Jim Brady – Columbus OH 43209

    Re snitch
    It is possible for a snitch to tell the truth .

    I was discussing ethics last week with an attorney who has practiced law for over 45 years .
    I offered a one sentence rule to existing and proposed ethics :

    If you lie you die ‼

    He said that he could easily practice within that guideline .

    Dead rogue snitches do not bear false witness against a cell neighbor .
    Dead rogue prosecutors do not suborn perjury with live snitches .

    Up the RISK:REWARD ratio to a very high level and we may be able to persuade prosecutors and snitches from rogue conduct .

    I still recall the threat of immediate (seconds death) decades ago and trust me ; that threat is a powerful motivator to quickly perform in an acceptable manner .

    Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

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