Prosecuting the Informant Culture
26 Pages Posted: 4 May 2011
Date Written: March 7, 2011
Professor Alexandra Natapoff, in her outstanding new book, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (2009), lays out the failures of our current system of over-reliance on criminal informants. Natapoff addresses first the internal costs of these policies for the accuracy of trial determinations and the protection of an accused's constitutional rights. But she also addresses the external costs on families, neighborhoods, and the entire polity. She suggests ways to improve the system, not eliminate it, because snitches, properly used, serve important social purposes. This essay builds on Natapoff's work by addressing the ethical obligations of the American prosecutor in dealing with snitches individually and with the snitching system. Tracking Natapoff's division of costs into internal and external categories, this piece argues that prosecutors simultaneously have two different duties, one to the accuracy of trial determinations and the protection of constitutional rights, the other to broader groups and to the state and nation. The essay discusses the sources and nature of these duties and their practical implications, including addressing the imperative to combat otherwise-hard-to-prosecute crime.
Keywords: prosecutor, ethics, snitches, informants, adversarial system, do-justice adversarialism, modified do-justice adversarialism, medical model, racial discrimination, minority rights, culture, police, social costs
JEL Classification: H10, H40, I30, J78, K14, K40, L31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation