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Being a Snitch as a Business Plan

January 17, 2012

2. Law, 4. Arrest, 7. Post-Trial

Being a Snitch as a Business Plan

I love it when someone gets all, “Hey, yo, I ain’t no snitch!”  Their nose gets crinkly, and if you’re lucky you can catch the beam of ambient light as it exits their nostrils because there’s no mass to impede its journey from their ears.

Let’s deconstruct the situation that leads to that proclamation.  Someone has information on the criminal activity of a third party.  The cops want it.  In one scenario, the putative snitch witnessed what happened or learned of it on the street.  They take the no-snitch position not out of the principled approach they proffer.  The truth is that they don’t want to get their brains splattered all over a darkened alley.  I can understand that motivation.  But don’t think for a moment that your position is based upon principle.

In another scenario, the information someone has is a negotiating point.  They’ve been busted, and the cops want to work up the food chain.  Their charges will drop from felonies down to misdemeanors – or go away entirely – if they cough.  A variant of this is when that someone needs to commit further acts to help establish a case against a third party.  They act as a confidential informant or paid confidential informant, often wearing a wire, and engage the third party in inculpatory conversation or the controlled buys of drugs.  Now we are getting something in return for sharing information with the cops.  It’s a highly personal decision:  Do you spend ten years in prison or rat out someone else?  Like all highly personal decisions, no one can condemn it unless they are inside the situation.

And this is where the label “snitch” becomes vacuous.  Go to the heart of the situation.  Society needs to function.  It doesn’t function when some people sell heroin or commit murder, and the response of those in the know is a shrug of the shoulders.  An old ethical standard is to view your behavior as if everyone else did the same thing – would you still do it?  What if people were able to commit murder with impunity because no witness or person with knowledge would ever come forward?  Society would fall apart.  And those very same no-snitch folks would change their opinion when the decedent was a family member.  So let’s set aside the condemnation of people who choose to assist the police – it’s their personal call based upon their personal situation and their personal view of society.

But then there is the ugly side of it – and this is where I’ll agree to use the label “snitch.”

I’ve written before that when in jail the best approach is to shut your mouth.  Jails and prisons are full of informants, and the worst of the lot – the snitches – lie about what you said.

Try this situation on for size:

In 1979, police pegged Maxwell as the so-called Skid Row Stabber, who allegedly murdered 10 men in downtown Los Angeles. Maxwell was convicted in 1984 of two counts of first degree murder and one count of robbery, crimes for which he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The sole physical evidence tying Maxwell to any of the crime scenes was a palm print on a public bench near one of the victims. More helpful to the prosecution’s case, however, was the testimony of Sidney Storch, “one of the most notorious jailhouse informants in the history of Los Angeles County,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained Monday.

Sidney Storch, snitch.  It’s taken over 30 years to correct his malfeasance.  Go to Page 29 for Cash v. Maxwell.

Some of his other work:

A check forger who has been in and out of jail much of his life, Storch explained how the killer could trade confessions of other inmates for official favors. Storch pointed out that confessions need not be real.

“Go for the jugular,” Storch advised. “You’re going to have to be b— s—-ing a little bit, but you may as well get used to that situation.”

Storch, then 41, went on to suggest how the killer, Robert Harris Ormsbee, 23, might fake the confession of a jailed police officer accused of several yacht thefts and two killings.

The motivation is receiving “official favors.”  The price paid is lying about what was said with the result of sending someone to prison for a long time for crimes they did not do.  The link is a fascinating read.  Storch would research the target – newspaper articles, et al. – and then craft a story around what he learned.  He taught other inmates how to do it.  Long story short, his lying caught up with him – he died at age 46 of AIDS awaiting extradition to NYS on perjury charges.

And as you can read in the Maxwell case, the criminal-justice system often relies heavily on snitches like Storch.  That’s a problem.  Storch turned snitching into a business plan.  He got reduced sentences and jailhouse perks – even money – for being a creative liar.

We’ve all seen on television the cross-examination of informants:  “Isn’t it true that you received [whatever] in return for your testimony today?”  “Yes,” the answer comes, “but that doesn’t make my testimony any less true.”

There’s problems with eyewitness testimony.  Now there’s problems with informant testimony.  It’s a true wonder that we find any justice in the criminal-justice system.

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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