Confidential Informants and the Death Penalty

One of my favorite blogs and my favorite dealing with Texas issues has posted about the growing dependence of law enforcement on confidential (often paid–either in cash or in reduced punishment) informants: snitches.

Grits for Breakfast discusses a Dec 2005 Slate feature by Prof. Alexandra “Sasha” Natapoff of Loyola Law School in our neighbor state of L.A. She’s made some to do about snitching and the over reliance of law enforcement on this “extreme form of plea bargain.”

As an abolitionist, this bit from the Slate feature really piqued my interest:

Snitches are famously unreliable: A 2004 study by the Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions reveals that 46 percent of wrongful death penalty convictions are due to snitch misinformationmaking snitches the leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases. Jailhouse snitches routinely concoct information; the system gives them every incentive to do so. Los Angeles snitch Leslie White infamously avoided punishment for his crimes for years by fabricating confessions and attributing them to his cellmates.

The leading cause for wrongful death penalty convictions. Those are pretty bad odds when the stakes (life or death) are so high.

Prof. Natapoff’s Slate piece concludes:

While snitching will never be abolished, the practice could be substantially improved, mostly by lifting the veil of secrecy that shields law-enforcement practices from public scrutiny.

Trying to turn that reasonable assertion into reality, Prof. Napatoff has posted an 11-page sample Motion Requesting Snitch Reliability Hearing (Word doc) in federal court on her faculty webpage.