man in handcuffs
"Snitch" investigates how a fundamental shift in the country's anti-drug laws --including federal mandatory minimum sentencing and conspiracy provisions--has bred a culture of snitching that is in many cases rewarding the guiltiest and punishing the less guilty.

The programs looks at several unsettling cases in which prosecutors go after small fish --drug dealers' mothers, cousins, even lawyers--either to pressure them into testifying or because the big fish snitched first. One young man in Alabama, Clarence Aaron was sentenced to three consecutive life terms without parole for arranging a meeting between supplier and dealer while the more culpable parties in the deal - who all decided to snitch on Aaron - served minimal or no sentences.

Another case profiled is that of 18- year-old Joey Settembrino, a first time offender who received a 10-year prison sentence after being caught in a drug sting instigated by a friend who was facing federal prosecution. After Joey was busted, federal agents enlisted his father to try to set up others in a drug sting. If the father delivered, his son would be spared a lengthy prison term. The effort failed. Joey is serving a mandatory 10 years without parole. In both cases, this report by producer Ofra Bikel interviews the young men in prison, and their prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Although informants have become a lynchpin in prosecuting federal drug-trafficking cases (since 1993 almost one in three federal drug defendants has earned sentence reductions this way), defenders of the current system such as Rep. Bill McCollum and Sen. Jeff Sessions argue it is a proper and necessary strategy in fighting the war on drugs.

But critics like Judge Robert Sweet and Eric Sterling charge the system is perverting justice. And, in a recent speech evaluating federal Sentencing Guidelines, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer criticized mandatory minimum sentencing laws and called for their removal.

Most recently, the practice of offering witnesses leniency deals gained national attention when a panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals stunned the federal criminal justice system with a controversial ruling . Their ruling in the summer of 1998 held that offering defendants lower sentences in exchange for testimony violated the federal law against bribing witnesses. Although this decision was rejected six months later by the full 10th Circuit Court, judicial challenges to leniency deals remain alive in other parts of the country.

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