Secret Justice: Criminal Informants and America’s Underground Legal System

by Alexandra Natapoff
‘Although it is almost invisible to the public, the use of criminal informants is everywhere in the U.S. justice system. From street corners to jails to courthouses to prisons, every year the government negotiates thousands of deals with criminal offenders in which suspects can avoid arrest or punishment in exchange for information. These deals typically take place off-the-record, subject to few rules and little oversight. While criminal informants—sometimes referred to as “snitches”—can be important investigative tools, using them has some serious costs: informants often continue to commit crimes, while the information they provide is infamously unreliable. Taken together, these facts make snitching an impor-tant and problematic aspect of the way America does justice.”+
“Crime is contagious. When the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law.” Justice Louis Brandeis
Alexandra Natapoff is the author of the new book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (New York University Press), which received a 2010 Silver Gavel Award Honorable Mention from the American Bar Asso-ciation. She is a Professor of Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, and wrote this article exclusively for PLN.