Tell me about the Aaron case.|
Clarence Aaron was a young man. When I met him he must have been 23,
24 years old. He was a senior [in college]. He had met another
fellow that was a bondsman there, and Mr. Aaron, according to the government,
not according to Mr. Aaron, but according to the government, Clarence Aaron had
gone to Houston on two, possibly three, occasions and had brought back from
Houston some cocaine into the Middle District of Louisiana I believe it was,
and into the Southern District of Alabama. He was basically a mule. ...
According to the government he was given a few thousand dollars to make these
trips and bring the cocaine here. Once he got here, some of the cocaine was
cooked into crack, so he became responsible for the crack cocaine, and since it
was more than one and a half kilos, he got life in the penitentiary without the
possibility of parole. At age 24.
Who were his co-conspirators?
They named a number of people; he was only tried with one other. He was tried
with a bail bondsman from Louisiana, just the two of them were tried, but the
conspiracy I think probably was eight or ten different people, and I think that
according to the government there was no question that Clarence Aaron was just
a mule. He wasn't a big drug dealer. He was just, according to them, hauling
drugs from time to time.
The others were dealers?
The codefendant that got Clarence involved, according to the government, got, if
I'm not mistaken, about 17 or 18 years. But since some of the
cocaine was brought to Mobile and turned into crack, then Clarence Aaron became
responsible for the crack, even though he didn't cook it, he didn't have
anything to do with it, he became responsible for it in the structure of the
conspiracy. So his boss up the line got 18 years, and as a carrier since
he was responsible for the crack, he got the life without.
Did they snitch on him?
I've forgotten how many snitches they had, it was four or five snitches. I
believe one of them was his cousin. Various people that told the story of him
going out to Houston and bringing back the drugs. ...
Why was Clarence singled out?
Clarence got the most time because he refused to snitch. He refused to be a
rat for the government, so as an example, they loaded his wagon. ...
He refused because he was honorable or because he didn't know anything?
A little bit of both. Everybody up the food chain from him had already been
convicted. There was nobody underneath him, so there wasn't much that he could
say anyway. And then I think he was an honorable man. I think he said, "I
have done whatever, and if I get convicted I'm willing to take my medicine."
You were his lawyer?
Not at the trial. I was up until the morning of the trial, and the government
came in with a witness and conflicted me out, and Dennis Knizley tried the
Why does the government use snitches?
Snitches are used by the government because it makes their life a lot easier.
They can have a witness to any particular fact they want by making a deal with
a snitch. ...
What does "substantial assistance" mean?
Substantial assistance means that you have done what the government asked you
to do. Let's say that you don't know anything, that you're on the bottom of the
food chain. Then you can't get substantial assistence because you don't know
enough. Unless you're willing to lie just a little bit and help the
government. Then your assistance becomes substantial. ...
What about the truth?
They want convictions. The lawyers for the government are working for the
government and their object and whole objective in life is to get people
convicted. And they will do most anything to accomplish their end. ...
Even if the snitch is lying?
What they usually do is tell the cooperating individual what the truth is, and
then he sings their song. ... The government usually scripts the story and they
say this is what everybody has done, and this is what everybody knows, let's
all get it together. In fact, when they try people here in the Southern
District of Alabama, they put all the rats and snitches together in one cell,
and after they testify, they go back to the snitch cell and compare stories and
compare notes and if the prosecutor's mad at one of them for having said
something wrong, then the rest of them know not to say that. ... It's just like
a play of some kind.
Do they admit it?
Certainly they don't admit it. They don't admit that they prep anybody.
How do they describe the use of snitches?
The government, they always say, "I would have preferred to have a priest come
in, but the defendant didn't hang out with priests. He hung out with scumbags
and low rent types, and that's what we had to make a case out of."
What is a conspiracy?
A conspiracy is any two people that you can throw one blanket over. That's a
conspiracy. ... If you and I get drunk sitting in a bar, and we say something
to the effect, "Why don't we go get us some cocaine and sell it and make a lot
of money," that is a conspiracy. We have made an agreement. We don't have to
go out and do anything. All we have to do is make the agreement. ... Once
we've made the agreement, we have committed a heinous criminal offense. We
could be sitting there, and 30 minutes later say, "Well, no, it's a bad
idea." ... We've still committed a criminal offense.
You get jail for that?
Certainly. The essence of most federal criminal cases is the conspiracy count.
... Conspiracy means that if you were in the same room at any given time in
your life with somebody that did something criminal, then you're part of that
Whether you knew it or not?
The law is you have to have knowledge of it and you have to intend to join a
conspiracy, but that's so much horse feathers. In practice that's not the way
it works. The way it works is that they can get anybody for conspiracy.
What's a dry conspiracy?
... A lot of cases [are] what we call a dry conspiracy. No drugs were ever
found. There's no proof that anybody had any drugs, other than some rat comes
up and says we had drugs. And the prosecutor says, "If you just say you had
drugs, then Mr. X or whomever it is, he's only going to go to prison for six or
eight years. But if you say, 'We had a kilo and a half of crack cocaine,' we
can send him away for a million years. So how much cocaine did he have?" And
pretty soon the snitch figures it out. He had to have a kilo and a half of
crack cocaine. ...
How do they decide the amount of drugs?
In a dry conspiracy the government decides. They write the script. And they
say. "We bet this much was involved," and that's how much it is. That's what
the snitch is going to say, and it's made so that the greater the amount, the
longer the time, the better the numbers ... .
Do you think it's because prosecutors are lazy?
Conspiracy is ... the darling of the prosecutor. You don't have to catch
people. You can sit in your office and say, "We have a conspiracy."
No, just sit in your office ... no guns involved. No heavy lifting. Nothing.
Just sit there and decide what's a conspiracy. And indict everybody with the
How deep can they go?
To the last act of the conspiracy. Once you get out [of the conspiracy],
you're still liable, even though the statute of limitations starts to run on
you, you're still liable to the last act of the conspiracy. ...
You can't escape?
You can never escape. Once you have entered into that web, you're toast.
How can you reduce your sentence?
Your sentence can't be reduced. There's nothing you can do to get it reduced.
You cannot file a motion on your own or have your lawyer file a motion. Only
the government in its infinite wisdom can file for a Rule 35, to have your
sentence reduced. The judge can't do it on his own. It has to be filed by the
United States government, and what they do in a lot of instances, they will
take someone and at that sentencing, they will go ahead and give them their
5K-1.1 downward departure, and that means that they get less than what the
sentencing guidelines would call for. Once the government has made the
departure motion, the judge can give any sentence he wants to. There is no
limit to his discretion at that point.
But a lot of times they will sentence someone and send them off to jail, and
then a new defendant will arrive on the scene and they go to the usual snitch
pen and say, "Who knows something about him?" and so everybody raises their
hand and they come forward and they say, "Well, I want more time off. I made a
good deal last time and to snitch on somebody else, I want some more time off."
And the prosecutor can file a Rule 35 motion and ask the judge to give them
even more time off. It's very profitable for the snitch. I mean he can work
it so he can really reduce his time in the penitentiary.
Why do juries believe snitches?
I think that most jurors believe snitches because they trust the government.
They're trusting their government to do the right thing. ...
Do jurors know about mandatory minimum sentences?
The jurors usually have no earthly idea of what kind of sentence is going to be
imposed. I think most jurors, if they were told what punishment the crimes
carry or conviction carries, ... would have serious doubts or would reflect on
it more seriously than what they do now.
Why don't they know?
Because no one wants to tell them. Nobody wants to let them know how severe it
is. Theoretically, are supposed to be kept in the dark so they'll be fair and
impartial. ... Of course if you're very clever defense lawyer usually you can
get that in. You take the snitch and go to the black board and put on how much
time he was originally looking at and most jurors can figure out that's how
much time your client is looking at. ...
Do snitches lie?
Do I feel that snitches lie? Only when their mouth is moving. You know, if
they're asleep, most of the time they don't, but ... oh, they will say
anything. They're prostitutes. I don't know how you could run a criminal
justice system without the use of informants, but at the same time, it allows
itself for such abuse. ...
I seriously doubt that any of them tell the truth when they testify. ...
Doesn't matter what the witness says, what the snitch says. Eventually, the
snitch catches on to what the truth is. The truth is what the government wants
it to be, because only the government [can] file for the downward departure.
And only the government can help them. It's bought and paid for testimony. If
I offered a witness a hundred dollar bill to come down and say it my way, I'd
go to prison for that. But yet the government can give them something far more
precious than money. Far more precious than diamonds or gold or anything.
They can give them freedom. ...
How do people feel about snitches?
I don't think anyone likes snitches. I think the prosecutors hate snitches. I
think cops hate snitches. ... Defense lawyers hate them. Everybody hates them.
It's like chemotherapy, you know, you have to have it some times, but nobody
likes it. Nobody wants it.
Do you have to have it?
I don't think so. Well, you probably have to have it to some extent. You
don't have to have it to the extent that is used today. I think that there
should be more regulations of how you're going to use them and under what
circumstances you can use them. I don't think that you should be allowed to
try a dry conspiracy. If you don't catch nobody with no drugs, then, you know,
no harm, no foul. I think that it lends itself to too much abuse. It lends
itself to a perversion of the system when people can take the stand and lie
with impunity, because the government never indicts anybody. I don't recall
them ever indicting a snitch for lying. But pre-trial they call them all
liars. They threaten them. They threaten them constantly. They take [them]
in rooms with FBI agents, and threaten to send them to the penitentiary for the
rest of their life if they don't tell the story that they want to hear. ...