Confidential Informants, also called Cooperating Witness, or Snitch are likely the single greatest factor in the number of drug arrests made -- not to mention the years their so-called testimony adds to the accused's time in prison. "Tell on three and go free," isn't a bad prison joke, it's American justice.

Alexandria Natapoff, author of Snitching, Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice has an extensive online resource of this critical issue, visit the Snitching Blog. Natapoff's blog is a comprehensive resource on criminal informants: legal developments, legislation, news stories, cultural reactions, commentary and more....
Watch the classic on drug war snitching. The 1999 PBS documentary, SNITCH: How informants have become a key part of Prosecutorial Strategy in the Drug war. Produced by Frontline & WGBH-Boston, you can watch it online. View and/or download in Windows media player.

Visit the PBS website, for interviews and more information on the subject as presented in 1999.

If you need a copy of SNITCH to view with a group, please contact our office.

Informants and the Drug War in the news

Case Of A Confidential Informant Gone Wrong

During a week in February of 2010, NPR published a telling three part series.

Written articles have links to the NPR news broadcast reports.
Part One, Case Of A Confidential Informant Gone Wrong
Part Two, Critics Blast Informant System Cloaked In Secrecy
Part Three, Retired Drug Informant Says He Was Burned

Reasonable Doubt

February 18, 2010 -- Pacific NW Inlander (WA)

Reasonable Doubt: How Spotty Detective Work And Careless Prosecution May Have Put The Wrong Men Behind Bars

By Jacob H. Fries

The courtroom was full of tears. Tyler Gassman, a 22-year-old Spokane kid, had just learned his fate -- 25 years in prison -- and his sister, mother and friends wept. So did David Partovi, his lawyer. Partovi had lost cases before, but this felt different. He couldn't understand how the system he believed in could railroad someone like Gassman, who, despite troubles at age 15, had become a hard-working young man.

Partovi, goateed and stout as a football player, strode to the lectern and addressed the court, red faced, with tears welling.

"I just want the record to reflect and mankind to know that this is the worst thing I've ever seen come out of the courts," Partovi says. "For the first time in my entire career, I'm ashamed to be an officer of this court."

Last February, a jury found Gassman and two friends guilty of robbing drug dealers in April 2008 -- despite the men's insistent pleas that they were innocent. Their conviction was the final stroke in a long and, at times, bizarre case.

Indeed, just hours before the trial was set to begin, prosecutors changed the date of the crime from April 15 to April 17, wiping out the men's alibis. Read more at the IW Inlander

Losing Rachel: Parents, Friends Agonize Over Hoffman's Death

November 30, 2009 -- Tampa Tribune (FL)

Losing Rachel: Parents, Friends Agonize Over Hoffman's Death

By Donna Koehn

Rachel Morningstar Hoffman left Safety Harbor for Florida State University with the confidence that comes from knowing your parents have your back.

She was Margie and Irv's copper-haired wonder, the kind of girl who wrote thank-you notes, doted on her pets, fretted over the plight of homeless people.

She didn't just play the flute, she was first chair. A natural equestrian, a graceful ballerina, a force of nature at a ping-pong table, she had a nurturing soul that attracted bright and spunky friends. But her ever-present smile drew out the wallflowers and the friendless, too, welcoming them along to her dance.

Rachel lived to please -- her pals, her rabbi, and, most of all, her adoring parents.

But she found herself in a dark place soon after graduation, a hitch in an otherwise promising life. Frustrated, desperate, she thought she had found a way out that would get her back on track and save her family from shame.

Rachel ended up alone on a dead-end street, a confidential drug informant for the Tallahassee police. She told her boyfriend it would be OK. She trusted them to have her back.

Surely the cops were pulling up behind her now. That cop, Ryan, had to be getting this through the wire in her purse. Cops, DEA dudes all over the place. Liza, with her video camera, somewhere.

But, God, where was everybody?

Now blood, running from the wounds in her side and her breast and her hands, her pianist's hands, which she held up as if they could somehow stop bullets.

The shots came from a Saturday night special, but they weren't coming quickly. The gun kept jamming, and the moment dragged on. Read more at the Tampa Tribune.

Informants: Walking Thin Line In Village Of Attica

November 8, 2009 -- Buffalo News (NY)

Informants: Walking Thin Line In Village Of Attica

Would-Be Informant Says Police Coerced Her into Cooperation

By Michael Beebe, News Staff Reporter

Bianca Hervey, a 20-year-old college student, was returning home to her apartment in Attica when a village police officer drove up behind her, put on his flashing lights and pulled her over.

It was 3 p.m. on Sept. 9, and she had just finished classes for the day at the Genesee Community College campus in nearby Warsaw. She was a block from her house.

"Do you know why I stopped you?" Hervey recalled the young officer asking her. "He told me I didn't have a license."

Hervey's driver's license, Officer Christopher Graham told her, had been suspended for failing to pay traffic tickets. He arrested her.

Graham handcuffed her, put her in the back of the police cruiser and took her to police headquarters. Her car was impounded and towed away.

At the police station, Graham handcuffed Hervey to a bench and told her she would probably spend the night in jail, Hervey said.

"I was bawling my eyes out," she said.

But then Graham offered her a way out of her problems. Read all at the Buffalo News.

Studies, reports and testimony

Written testimony, Alexander Natapoff, to House Judicary subcomittee

July 19, 2007


Joint Oversight Hearing on Law Enforcement Confidential Informant Practices

Download testimony

DEA's Payments to Confidential Sources

The US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General Audit Division released, DEA's Payment to Confidential Sources, a summary report in 2005. Here are a few highlights for students of the informant, or snitch system.

"The Attorney General Guidelines state that payments to a confidential source that exceed an aggregate of $100,000 within a one-year period shall be made only with the authorization of a senior field manager and the express approval of a designated senior headquarters official. In addition, regardless of the timeframe, any payments to a confidential source that exceed an aggregate of $200,000 should be made only with the authorization of a senior field manager and the express approval of a designated senior headquarters official. Our audit revealed weaknesses with how the DEA accounts for non-appropriated funds, and monitors calendar year and lifetime payments; therefore, we could not determine if the appropriate approvals were obtained...

"We also concluded that the DEA does not have an effective system that accounts for and reconciles all confidential source payments. The DEA relies on a manual process to provide payment information during discovery and to determine if payments to confidential sources exceeded calendar year and lifetime caps. This manual process is time-consuming, prone to error, and could adversely affect the DEA’s ability to provide accurate confidential source payment information."

Download Executive Summary