Reveals the secretive, inaccurate, and often violent ways that the American criminal system really works
Curtis Flowers spent twenty-three years on death row for a murder he did not commit. Atlanta police killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a misguided raid on her home. Rachel Hoffman was murdered at age twenty-three while working for Florida police.
Such tragedies are consequences of snitching. Although it is nearly invisible to the public, the massive informant market shapes the American legal system in risky and sometimes shocking ways. Police rely on criminal suspects to obtain warrants, to perform surveillance, and to justify arrests. Prosecutors negotiate with defendants for information and cooperation, offering to drop charges or lighten sentences in exchange. In this book, Alexandra Natapoff provides a comprehensive analysis of this powerful and problematic practice. She shows how informant deals generate unreliable evidence, allow serious criminals to escape punishment, endanger the innocent, and exacerbate distrust between police and poor communities of color.
First published over ten years ago, Snitching has become known as the “informant bible," a leading text for advocates, attorneys, journalists, and scholars. This influential book has helped free the innocent, it has fueled reform at the state and federal level, and it is frequently featured in high-profile media coverage of snitching debacles. This updated edition contains a decade worth of new stories, new data, new legislation and legal developments, much of it generated by the book itself and by Natapoff's own work. In clear, accessible language, the book exposes the social destruction that snitching can cause in heavily-policed Black neighborhoods, and how using criminal informants renders our entire penal process more secretive and less fair. By delving into the secretive world of criminal informants, Snitching reveals deep and often disturbing truths about the way American justice really works.
Alexandra Natapoff is the Lee S. Kreindler Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow. She is the author of Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal and editor of The New Criminal Justice Thinking.
Alexandra Natapoff’s groundbreaking work upends much of what we know—or thought we knew—about how the criminal justice system works. . . Natapoff shows how police and prosecutors routinely reward informants with an array of benefits, ranging from cash to freedom, which are largely hidden from public view. Her damning account illuminates the profound unfairness and devastating consequences of incentivized testimony. Snitching is a revelatory book that will forever change the way we look at the role that informants play in both policing and criminal prosecutions.
~Pamela Colloff, senior reporter at ProPublica and staff writer at The New York Times Magazine
The supply [of cooperators] is endless. I should know. There were at least three in the trials against me. After it was discovered that the first two cooperators had been offered favors and weren’t telling the truth, they never appeared again. The state just produced a new one. This book really explains how this process worked in my trials, and how it still works in others’. My hope is that this book shines a light so that other people do not have to suffer through what I did.
~Curtis Flowers, exonerated in 2021 after serving twenty-three years for wrongful convictions based on informant testimony
This book […] was a godsend for me, especially as we fought to get ‘Rachel’s Law’ passed. The book educated all of us in such a meaningful way: legislators, law students and family members and friends.
~Marjorie Weiss, advocate and mother of murdered twenty-three-year-old informant Rachel Hoffman
Superb . . .a searing indictment of how the secretive dynamics of informing have helped corrupt inner city life in America, and a deep scholarly analysis of how our legal rules contribute to this problem and can be reformed to mitigate it. This brilliantly original book is ...wise and ruthlessly honest in its understanding of the street level practices of informant-reliance.
~Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, founder and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center
One of the truly impressive contributions of the book comes in [Natapoff’s] explanation of the effects of widespread use of informants for the criminal justice system, our social structures, and our democracy. . . . Snitching should find a place in every law school course looking at legal issues in the criminal justice arena, and on the syllabi of every university course in criminal justice that aims to give students a realistic and nuanced view of how the system really works.