Our criminal justice system favors defendants who know how to play the "5K game": criminals who are so savvy about the cooperation process that they repeatedly commit serious crimes knowing they can be sent back to the streets if they simply cooperate with prosecutors. In Snitch, investigative reporter Ethan Brown shows through a compelling series of case profiles how the sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses, along with the 5K1.1 section, have unintentionally created a "cottage industry of cooperators," and led to fabricated evidence. The result is wrongful convictions and appallingly gruesome crimes, including the grisly murder of the Harvey family in Richmond, Virginia and the well-publicized murder of Imette St. Guillen in New York City.
This cooperator-coddling criminal justice system has ignited the infamous "Stop Snitching" movement in urban neighborhoods, deplored by everyone from the NAACP to the mayor of Boston for encouraging witness intimidation. But as Snitch shows, the movement is actually a cry against the harsh sentencing guidelines for drug-related crimes, and a call for hustlers to return to "old school" street values, like: do the crime, do the time. Combining deep knowledge of the criminal justice system with frontline true crime reporting, Snitch is a shocking and brutally troubling report about the state of American justice when it's no longer clear who are the good guys and who are the bad.
Brown (Queens Reigns Supreme) presents the case that harsh minimum sentencing laws have led federal prosecutors to rely too much on unreliable informants and cooperators, and too little on solid investigative work; the sentences are also, he argues, feeding the anti-snitch movement. Brown correctly notes that long minimum sentences give defendants greater incentive to lie in exchange for a reduced sentence, and he relates anecdotes about deals with unsavory criminals. But these cases don't provide any analysis of whether such arrangements are really antithetical to justice and corrupt the system. For instance, in discussing the agreement struck with unrepentant Mafia turncoat Sammy Gravano, the author doesn't assess the possibility that such plea bargains with mob leaders have contributed to the decline of traditional organized crime. Further, the author's critique of pre-emptive indictments in alleged terrorist plots based on informers could have given more weight to the legitimate fears that waiting too long to stop such a plot may be too risky. The serious issues raised by the federal government's reliance on informants and cooperative witnesses merit a more thorough and nuanced analysis than Brown provides.