Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Snitches: Truth for Hire?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2009

snitchYesterday we saw the movie The Informant! starring Matt Damon.  It’s an interesting and entertaining trip into the psychology of a snitch, one Shaun (who’s cross-examined dozens of snitches in the courtroom) thought mirrored reality.  Of course, not all snitches have the mental issues Matt Damon’s character had in the movie, but in general snitches are self-motivated, frightened criminals who will do or say anything for something in return.  The currency paid to informants is, in a great majority of the cases, dismissal of charges, shortened prison terms, and/or promises of probation.

“Years ago in a multi-defendant murder trial,” says Shaun, “the prosecution made a deal with the acknowledged shooter, we’ll call Informant X, to dismiss the death penalty in exchange for his testimony against our client.  Informant X was also looking at federal kidnapping charges for abducting and harming a witness.  One of the first questions we asked Informant X in our cross-examination was whether he would lie to spare his own life.  In a moment of disarming honesty, he smiled at the jury and agreed he would.”

It’s extremely rare for a snitch to as honest as in the above example.  So why are they used?  Prosecutors consider using snitches or informants to be a necessary evil because it’s awkward if not impossible to place law enforment in the middle of numerous ongoing, concurrent criminal enterprises, from drug dealing to extortion to homicides.   Therefore, snitches become necessary, and prosecutors roll the dice in a gamble that a jury will believe the informant. 

Using a snitch in your story?  They’re great characters for throwing a wrench into a plot, frustrating a seasoned prosecutor, even adding some comic relief.  Snitches are, like the people they testify against, dishonest, typically drug/alcohol addicted, and self-interested.  It is no wonder that the truth suffers at their hands.   Anyone looking to catch a snitch in a lie (such as a PI working for the defense attorney) will look carefully at the snitch’s conduct in the months before they take the stand.  Inevitably, snitches get into even more criminal trouble after making deals with the government. 

We’ll end this post with an article on the psychology of snitches and a defense lawyer’s no-snitches clause:

‘Courthouse Snitches’ Likely to Provide False Information:

“The No-Snitches Clause”:


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