Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alexandra Natapoff's "Snitching"

Alexandra Natapoff is Professor of Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a nationally recognized expert on criminal snitching.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (NYU Press), and reported the following:
Criminal informants are everywhere in the American justice system. Every year, thousands of offenders--from drug addicts to Wall Street investors—avoid punishment for their crimes by providing the government with information. Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice reveals how influential these snitching deals have become: from the war on drugs to hip hop music, white collar crime, and terrorism investigations. An important consequence of these widespread deals is that they make the criminal system more informal and secretive. Guilt is increasingly resolved off the record and under the table, while investigations rely heavily on confidential criminal sources. Chapter 4, entitled “Secret Justice,” is devoted to this problem and it concludes on page 99 as follows:
Today’s informant culture goes beyond the inquiry in any specific case about whether it might be dangerous to reveal the name of an informant or whether a particular investigation might be compromised by such revelations. Rather, the system is moving towards wholesale policies of keeping cases, dockets, and practices secret. Today, the potential threat to some witnesses is now seen by courts as a reason to overcome the presumption of openness for all criminal records.

In these ways, the practice of using informants undermines public transparency throughout the criminal system. By resolving liability in secret, it insulates investigative and prosecutorial techniques from judicial and legislative scrutiny. This reduced public access affects numerous other constituencies as well, making it more difficult for the press, crime victims, families, and policy analysts to obtain information about the workings of the justice system or about specific criminal cases. Informant use has thus become a powerful and destructive informational policy in its own right, reducing public transparency and obscuring the real impact of criminal practices on individuals, communities, and other institutions.
Snitching creates some other big problems for the criminal system as well, each of which is addressed in a separate chapter. “Beyond Unreliable,” for example, discusses the infamous unreliability of informants and why police and prosecutors continue to rely on them. “Snitching in the Hood” describes the heavy use of criminal informants in poor urban communities and the increased crime and violence that can result, while the chapter on “Stop Snitching” explores problems of witness intimidation and police-community distrust. The book also surveys the common use of informants in white collar, political, and terrorism investigations. By examining these pervasive underground practices, Snitching reveals surprising and sometimes shocking features of how our criminal process really works.
Read an excerpt from Snitching, and learn more about the book at the official Snitching blog.

--Marshal Zeringue