This fascinating expose in USA Today gives an eye-opening look at how some defendants profit by the information they have on other drug criminals. The information has value: information that is used to substantially assist law enforcement can used to get a reduced sentence. In a lot of circumstances in the Federal Criminal System, it’s the only way to get a reduction, and most of the people charged in Federal Court have bad facts that make it difficult to take the case to trial. The system has benefits for both sides, as it entices defendants to share information that can be invaluable to prosecutors. As a former Florida State prosecutor, I can attest that it is more difficult to get people to cooperate in Florida state court as there is not a clear sentence reduction to induce the cooperation.
The selling of information sounds improper. It casts doubt on the reliability of the information if the source is not properly identified, especially in cases where the informant lies about where they receive the information. However, provided there is no dishonesty in the collection or dissemination of that information, my capitalist instinct says that it makes sense. The information has value. The collector of that information should be able to benefit from it, if the user (the government) receives like benefit. Everybody wins, except the criminals who get snitched on. And in the long run, those who snitch face illegal repercussions on the street. But a lot of them feel it is worth the risk, when decades of incarceration are on the line.
I have often felt the Florida Sentencing Guidelines ought to have mitigating factors that can allow for reduced sentences when incentives are met. In addition to reducing the Guidelines score for defendants who cooperate, why not encourage addicts to get treatment for reduced sentences, or recognize when somebody turns themself in. Florida’s draconian sentencing system is frequently more harsh that the Federal system, which is notoriously harsh. And mandatory minimums in Florida are truly mandatory. The subject certainly merits discussion in Tallahassee, especially as our bloated prison system drains the state budget.
Definitely check out the article, it’s a fascinating read. Thanks to my friend Dave for passing it along to Crimcourts. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/14/jailhouse-informants-for-sale/1762013/