Informants are an important part of criminal investigations and prosecutions. In exchange for leniency or other benefits, one criminal can provide information that helps to convict others. But the use of informants bears risks for the integrity of the system and the safety of the community. Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola L.A., explores the practice and recommends reforms in Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (KF9665 .N38 2009 at Classified Stacks).
Rather than summarize, let me refer you to the detailed table of contents, the publisher's summary, and the introduction.
(In Snitching, Natapoff discusses only criminal informants. "Snitching" does not apply to the testimony of victims, bystanders, or other witnesses.)
Some of the problems discussed are familiar: snitches are unreliable; many wrongful convictions were based on testimony from informants; not all defendants have the same access to the benefits available to some informants. Natapoff also looks beyond criminal justice to look at the effect on poor, urban communities where a significant number of people are informing or being pressured to inform. Criminal justice may be the residents' dominant experience of government, and they see crimes that go unpunished (because the perpetrators cut deals); moreover, violence escalates.
I enjoyed the whole book, but if you have limited time, just read the recommendations in Chapter 8.
For more, see Natapoff's blog, Snitching.
One thing I appreciated in the book was the treasure trove of endnotes. Here are some of the intriguing sources Natapoff cites:
- Laurence A. Benner, Racial Disparity in Narcotics Search Warrants, 6 J. Gender, Race & Just. 183 (2002)
- Stephanos Bibas, Transparency and Praticipation in Criminal Procedure, 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 911 (2006)
- Stephanos Bibas, Plea Bargaining Outside the Shadow of Trial, 117 Harv. L. Rev. 2463 (2004)
- Darryl Brown, The Decline of Defense Counsel and the Rise of Accuracy in Criminal Adjudicaation, 93 Cal. L. Rev. 1585 (2005)
- I. Bennett Capers, Policing, Race, and Place, 44 Harv. Civ. Rts.-Civ. Lib. L. Rev. 43 (2009)
- Steven M. Cohen, What Is True? Perspectives of a Former Prosecutor, 23 Cardozo L. Rev. 817 (2002)
- David Cole, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System (1999), HV9950 .C58 1999 at Classified Stacks
- Stanley Z. Fisher, Just the Facts, Ma'am: Lying and the Omission of the Exculpatory Evidence in the Police Reports, 28 New England L. Rev. 1 (1993)
- Stepehn J. Fortunato, Jr., Judges, Racism, and the Problem of Actual Innocence, 57 Maine L. Rev. 481 (2005)
- Joseph Goldstein, Police Discretion Not to Invoke the Criminal Process: Low-Visibility Decisions in the Administration of Justice, 69 Yale L.J. 543 (1960)
- Samuel R. Gross & Barbara O'Brien, Frequency and Predictors of False Conviction: Why We Know So Little, and New Data on Capital Cases, U. Mich. Law Sch. Public Research Paper no. 93, Oct. 2007
- George C. Harris, Testimony for Sale: The Law and Ethics of Snitches and Experts, 28 Pepp. L. Rev. 1 (2000)
- Randall Kennedy, Race, Crime, and the Law (1997), KF9223 .K43 1997 at Classified Stacks
- Susan S. Kuo: Official Indiscretions: Considering Sex Bargains with Government Informants, 38 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1643 (2005)
- Abner J. Mikva, The Treadmill of Criminal Justice Reform, 43 Cleveland St. L. Rev. 5 (1995)
- Caren Myers Morrison, Privacy, Accountability, and the Cooperating Defendant: Towards a New Role for Internet Access to Court Records, 62 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 921 (2009).
- Jeffrey S. Neuschatz et al., The Effects of Accomplice Witnesses and Jail-house Informants on Jury Decision Making, 32 Law & Hum. Behav. 137 (2008)
- Daniel Richman, Prosecutors and Their Agents, Agents and Their Prosecutors, 103 Columbia L. Rev. 749 (2003)
- Daniel Richman & William J. Stuntz, Al Capone's Revenge: An Essay on the Political Economy of Pretextual Prosecutions, 105 Colum. L. Rev. 583 (2005)
- Amanda J. Schreiber, Dealing with the Devil: An Examination of the FBI's Troubled Reslationship with Its Confidential Informants, 34 Colum. J.L. & Soc. Probs. 301 (2001)
- Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (2007) (available from UW and Summit Libraries)
- David Alan Sklansky, Police and Democracy, 103 Mich. L. Rev. 1699 (2005)
- Christopher Slobogin, Testifying: Police Perjury and What to Do About It, 67 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1037 (1996)
- William J. Stuntz, Plea Bargaining and Criminal Law's Disappearing Shadow, 117 Harv. L. Rev. 2548 (2004)
- William J. Stuntz, The Pathological Politics of Criminal Law, 100 Mich. L. Rev.505 (2001)
- Andrew E. Taslitz, Wrongly Accused Redux: How Race Contributes to Convicting the Innocent: The Informants Example, 37 Sw. U. L. Rev. 101 (2008)
- George C. Thomas & Richard A. Leo, The Effect of Miranda v. Arizona: "Embedded" in Our National Culture?, 29 Crime & Justice 203 (2002)
- Sandra Guerra Thompson, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt? Reconsidering Uncorroborated Eyewitness Identification Testimony, 41 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1487 (2008).
- Stephen S. Trott, Words of Warning for Prosecutors Using Criminals as Witnesses, 47 Hastings L.J. 1381 (1986)
- Tom R. Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (1990), K250 .T95 1990 at Classified Stacks
- Tom Tyler & Jeffrey Fagan, Legitimacy and Cooperation: Why Do People Help the Police Fight Crime in Their Communities?, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 06-99 (April 1, 2008)
- Ellen Yaroshefsky, Cooperation with Federal Prosecutors: Experiences of Truth Telling and Embellishment, 68 Fordham L. Rev. 917 (1999)
Do I have time to read all of these law review articles and books? Heck, no. But I might look some of them up sometime, and even knowing about them is worthwhile on some level. And since I've listed them here, maybe someone who reads this post will have a head start on some interesting and important research.