When Is a Snitch Believable?

When a snitch accuses someone of a crime in order to reduce a sentence that he anticipates or is already serving, there's good reason to doubt the snitch's credibility. Law enforcement agents and prosecutors nonetheless have few qualms about building cases around the testimony of a snitch -- unless the snitch points the finger of blame in the wrong direction, like Raymond Garrett did.

Garrett, who founded the Brick Money Entertainment record company, made a deal with federal prosecutors. He pled guilty to a drug trafficking charge. In exchange for his agreement to cooperate against other wrongdoers, prosecutors agreed to recommend that he receive a 10 year sentence. So far, everybody's happy.

But then "Garrett told investigators that two Utica police officers were involved in criminal activity." If he had made similar allegations against anyone else, they may have been taken at face value, as they so often are. Police and prosecutors were less willing to believe him after he accused the police. [more ...]

An internal investigation at the Utica Police Department has since exonerated the unnamed officers of any wrongdoing, officials said. Still, Garrett’s allegations remain tucked away within sealed court documents.

The nature of the accusations and the identities of the accused officers remains a secret. The accusations may have been entirely bogus, although it's not clear what Garrett would gain by inventing a story that the government would not be predisposed to believe. Ratting out a competing drug dealer or anyone else he knew would have been a smarter move.

The local district attorney says other suspects have "accused local police officers of playing a role in drug-trafficking or gun-selling operations" but that none of those accusations have ever been proved to be true. Maybe that's because the police don't rely just on the word of a snitch when they investigate a police officer, as they often do when investigating other suspects.

Utica Public Safety Commissioner Daniel LaBella has a theory about why Garrett might have falsely accused the police:

“A lot of times people make allegations against police officers to defer attention away from their own criminal matters,” LaBella said.

A lot of times people make allegations against all sorts of other people to deflect attention from their own crimes. That's why accusations made by criminals should rarely be credited, even though they're the driving force behind a large share of federal drug prosecutions.

The larger point is that snitches always have an incentive to fabricate. Even when they accurately identify another criminal, they often make that offender seem worse than he is ("yeah, man, he moves 20 keys a week for sure") with the expectation that they'll get more brownie points for frying a big fish than they will for a small one.

As for Garrett, federal prosecutors didn't like the fact that he accused the cops of mischief, and have moved to revoke his plea deal. Garrett in turn has moved to withdraw his guilty plea. His sentencing has been postponed until the mess gets straightened out.

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  • Display: Sort:
    the accusations made by criminals (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by cpinva on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 07:02:12 PM EST
    should be treated like any others: absent corroberating testimony/forensic evidence, it's basically hearsay.

    i am always surprised that more defense attorneys don't challenge it on those grounds, since there's usually nothing substantive to support the claims.

    I agree. (none / 0) (#7)
    by Fabian on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 07:12:00 PM EST
    I'm beginning to think it is sheer laziness.   Sure it (the testimony) is an inferior product of questionable quality, but it sure beats spending a lot of time hunting down other witnesses and other evidence that you may or may not find.

    I don't think every prosecutor is like that, but there's obviously some who do.

    Where ever there is a system, there will be people gaming it.  


    no, it is not (none / 0) (#8)
    by txpublicdefender on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 08:04:28 PM EST
    When someone testifies under oath in open court, it is not hearsay.  

    When a "confidential reliable informant" (none / 0) (#9)
    by myiq2xu on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 09:15:49 PM EST
    provides the probable cause for a warrant, not only is their identity confidential but usually whatever they told the cops is secret too.

    the point i was making is (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by cpinva on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 11:27:42 PM EST
    When someone testifies under oath in open court, it is not hearsay.

    is that this testimony shouldn't be allowed in the first place, absent some foundational support provided by the prosecution. otherwise, it's just some guy saying something, who clearly has a conflict of interest (so, for that matter, does the prosecution).

    perhaps some blame can be laid at the feet of defense counsel, who clearly aren't taking much time to shred these people.

    Time is money...... (none / 0) (#16)
    by Rojas on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 05:37:33 AM EST
    Most people don't know (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by BernieO on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 06:11:05 AM EST
    that this is how Whitewater got started. David Hale got caught embezzling a couple of million from the Small Business Administration so he decided to give the Feds made up dirt on Bill Clinton. Hale was a notorious con man yet Ken Starr actually vouched for his credibility. The only evidence against Clinton was Hale's say-so. Our vaunted media with a few notable exceptions failed to inform the public of this.

    People really need to understand how this works. If information comes from a snitch who is trying to save himself there needs to be strong corroborating evidence.

    whitewater? (none / 0) (#19)
    by diogenes on Fri Jul 18, 2008 at 10:58:50 AM EST
    If Whitewater was really so bogus then why did Hillary Clinton "lose" her law firm billing records for so long before they were "found" in the White House?

    I've seen several dealers (none / 0) (#1)
    by myiq2xu on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 04:56:51 PM EST
    snitch on their customers to get favorable treatment.

    I've always felt our (none / 0) (#2)
    by wingman2007 on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 05:21:17 PM EST
    criminal justice system is in shambles. This story does not provide any confidence in the system. Information from someone trying to lower their sentence should never be used unless there is evidence that can back up the accusation.

    My experience is that the worst scumbags (none / 0) (#3)
    by myiq2xu on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 06:04:41 PM EST
    are the most likely to snitch.

    The theory is using the little fish to bag the big fish, but that's not what usually happens.

    When the cops actually bag a big fish, he sets up some patsy to get busted with a bunch of heavily cut dope.

    Big fish goes free, little fish gets screwed, cops get a big bust for the paper.


    Bingo! (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 06:20:41 PM EST
    Big fish goes free, little fish gets screwed, cops get a big bust for the paper.

    May I add drugs are as plentiful as ever, and certain sepcial interests clean up.

    Ladies and Gentleman...your war on drugs!


    That's How Gov't Works (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 11:30:11 PM EST
    Big fish goes free, little fish gets screwed

    It's my understanding that (none / 0) (#4)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 06:04:50 PM EST
    plea bargains are explicitly prohibited in most Western European judicial systems for just this reason.

    While I agree with the idea that (none / 0) (#10)
    by rooge04 on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 09:25:20 PM EST
    some people make things up, exaggerate, etc...I consider the multiple instances of the term "snitch" in this post offensive. Considering people where I live don't testify to shootings because "snitches get stitches" or "snitches die!"

    Not the same. (none / 0) (#11)
    by TChris on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 10:24:26 PM EST
    There is a difference between an innocent witness/victim and a snitch.  The post is about defendants who buy sentencing leniency by accusing others of crime.

    choice of word (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by diogenes on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 12:09:08 AM EST
    The issue is the choice of the word snitch, which in popular usage is someone who rats out someone else, plea bargain or no.  There should be another word for those who give testimony in exchange for lighter sentences.

    How about... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 10:26:06 AM EST
    self-serving snitch?

    Some snitches get paid cash (none / 0) (#12)
    by myiq2xu on Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 11:27:12 PM EST
    The bigger the bust, the bigger the bonus

    Exactly the same (none / 0) (#20)
    by Patrick on Mon Mar 23, 2009 at 06:37:12 PM EST
    to people who don't have the legal wherewithall to know definitions, and especially dangerous when dealing with violent criminals.   It's a mindset that is dangerous to society as a whole and to neighborhoods overrun with violent gangs bent on suppressing victim or witness reported crimes.  Deny this.  

    Well (none / 0) (#21)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 23, 2009 at 07:01:16 PM EST
    Then it is time to educate the public about the difference. Better that then to whitewash paid snitch testimony that is unreliable, yet effective for the Prosecutor.

    You figure out (none / 0) (#22)
    by Patrick on Mon Mar 23, 2009 at 09:36:54 PM EST
    how and I'll be right there with you.   Of course my cynical side side want to sell you a bridge...Besides, testimony has to be vetted by a jury.  They decide if it is believable, not the prosecutor or police.