Matt Kaiser at Above the Law has a terrific post titled, “White Collar Trials, Snitches, And Telling The Truth” from early June on the use of jailhouse informants or “snitches” in federal court, and how the government benefits from their incentivized testimony.
We’ve published a slice of the piece below, but it’s worth reading the whole thing here.
Snitches are tricky. Often you don’t know what they’ve said before to the government until late in the game. Their statements are Jencks — so a defense lawyer is supposed to get them, but often federal judges only require that they’re turned over very close to trial.
Snitches are also crafty witnesses….
This is especially when the snitch has a very good lawyer — and the money to pay for that lawyer’s time — who works with her client on how to testify effectively. The government and the snitch’s lawyer will have access to all of the evidence that the lawyer for the person on trial does. They’ll look for the avenues of cross that will be pursued, and they’ll prepare for them.
The snitch has a strong reason to be a very persuasive witness — he’s trying to get his time down.
And of course, a good defense lawyer will want to point out to the jury that the snitch has a reason to shade things.
The government has a response to that — they include in just about every cooperation agreement that the cooperating witness has to tell the truth in order to receive any benefit under the agreement.
This is supposed to highlight for the jury that the snitch is really motivated to tell the truth. Of course, as just about any snitch cross points out, the folks who decide whether the snitch is telling the truth share a credit union with Eric Holder.