What are your views on the government's use of informants in prosecuting drug crimes?


Snitch was excellent programming. We need a dialogue on the issue of the use of snitches to manufacture evidence. The government has tremendous resources which can be overwhelming to the individual citizen if prosecutors are allowed to operate unchecked in the manner revealed in "Snitch." Here's what I think about the government's use of snitch testimony. Our evidentiary system now rejects hearsay evidence if it is used to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the hearsay statement. This is done because of the inherent unreliability of hearsay reports by witnesses. How unreliable is testimony that is self serving or even coerced? In my view prosecutors are now allowed to practically suborn perjury with the type of tactics highlighted in "Snitch." The rules of evidence need to address the inherent unrelieability of such "paid for" testimony. I think we need to deal with snitch testimony the same way we do with coerced confessions and with evidence procured in violation of privacy rights. We should bar evidence if there is a credible showing that it was paid for by the prosecutors in any way, shape or form. We need to take away the pay off, by depriving the prosecutors of the evidence produced by or in association with a pay off of any kind. It's exactly the same thing we do to convince prosecutors and law enforcers to respect our rights to privacy and our rights to be free of coerced confessions, and it works. Nothing less will ever dissuade prosecutors from using these questionable tactics to manufacture evidence. This solution would allow informants to testify, but not in exchange for a pay off of any kind. After all, any court would be shocked and absolutely bar snitch testimony if it could be shown that a prosecutor paid so much as one dollar in cash to an informant as a reward for specific testimony. Yet we allow this blatant coercion and buying of testimony through reduced drug sentences for snitches. That is very inconsistent and needs to be corrected.

Dale Frankis
sacramento, ca


Thanks once again for your excellent coverage of the War on Drugs and its devestating fallout. The prosecutorial tactics described in the program show what happens when we, as a society, allow ourselves to hate others for their differences. Hatred despises democracy and due process and cannot thrive except by eliminating such obstacles. In our hatred for people who use drugs we don't approve of, we have criminalized what amounts to private, consensual behavior. This sort of "crime" produces no complainants, so the only way to enforce such laws is to find a "snitch". The absurd length to which this process has gone has really outdone even Lewis Carroll.

Larry Stevens
springfield, il


Dear Frontline, I heard of the airing of your story through the Hoover Institute. It is frightening what our government is doing to innocent people. We are in the new age of McCathyism. My husband is in prison in Ecuador because he would not be a snitch for the US Justice Dept. trying to nail a suspected drug lord. Our lives are forever ruined by this travesty. When will it end?? I hope you will continue to expose more injustices by our beauracracies.

Robin Williams
jacksonville beach, fl


The story of Clarence Aaron both angers and saddens me. To think we live in a country of opportunity is false. I am convinced the government is trying to suppress the black community. Unlike the past with segregation, today's attempts are much harder to see because of a smoke screen they call a drug war. The Clarence Aaron case is a prime example. Here we have a group of young black men, tried and convicted of being involved with drugs. From the outside it looks as if the system did it's job but what we did'nt know (till your show) was that the one that was least involved and had the most to offer it's community was sent to jail for life. The one's that were most involved, had prior records and will do more harm to the community will soon be free. Thank you Frontline for opening our eyes.

shawn flannigan
leavenworth, ks


We were quite disturbed by Ofra Bikel's documentary, Snitch. Bikel effectively and poignantly portrayed the difficult situations of the people adversely affected by the actions of the snitches and federal prosecutors. However, we would have liked to have heard more about the case going to the Supreme Court regarding informants, and it would have been useful to have heard about what work is being done, if any, to pressure for new legislation against mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The end of the program left us without much hope that there is any possibility for legislative or judicial change. Moreover, it would have been useful to hear about the relationship between snitches and the career ambitions of federal prosecutors; prosecutors are judged in part by the number of convictions they attain, and the number of convictions are clearly increased by the use of snitches. Thus, prosecutors likely sweeten the pot for snitches to make themselves look good. Unfortunately, this narcissism exponentially increases jail-time for minor offenders.

Josh Habib
jamaica plain, ma


I see that you not only slant the broadcast, but only publish the letters that support your position on these issues. I hope that is brought to peoples attention when your next funding period arrives.

lighthouse point, fl


Unbelievable! Being a white, middle-class male, it's sometimes easy to distance yourself from the constant injustices that envelope our country. Your program brought home the message LOUD and CLEAR. It's obvious to me that the Drug War is another attempt to divide and rule the citizenry of this country. As long as you imprison the disinfranchised (black, poor) and bring divisions between everyone else through "snitching", the powers that be can continue to rule persuant to their interests. Upon hearing Orin Hatch, I couldn't help but wonder what children he's protecting. If I was to restate his message, it would read, "We need to protect our children (white, upper-middle class Christians) from the bad guys (everybody else not fitting this description) who deal drugs. What a fascist. In closing, thank you Frontline for firing us up, the American masses. It is time we take action.

Darius Johannes
san diego, ca


As a Teacher, I attempt to guide young people to an understanding of the difference between civic virture and civic vice. In the pursuit of justice zealotry has created mongrel justice, akin to some of the more ignoble episodes of puritanism. In order to save our society, we have destroyed our reasoning abilities. Our government has blindly framed an intolerable act. Lady Justice - "let us see the light." As I read through the Frontline discussion passages, I thank all the contributors for bearing their exasperation and anger. Cry for our beloved country. And President Clinton, do you feel our angst - and now you can't do a thing to help.

Tim McDowell
platte woods, mo


Despite the quality journalism that is "Snitch" I find it interesting that the news media who hyped the drug hysteria are now hyping the fallout from their own sensationalism. PBS, perhaps because of its dependence on government funding, has been an all too willing conduit of bureaucratic propaganda. "Frontline" has produced some incredibly obsequious features that are the very model of parrot journalism. The culpability in this judicial mess lies in part with the media--PBS and "Frontline" included--who created the problem.

William J Getty
haverhill, ma


I was appalled at the program I viewed on "Snitches". I am a conservative and give no quarter to drug traffickers. Even so it is apparent to even the simplest of individuals that the U.S. Congress needs to change the law on this pestilence. When any American can be incarcerated on just the accusation of another individual is the point where our liberty is sacrificed on the altar of judicial expediency. That is not an option with this American. The defense attorneys and prosecutors claim that this is necessary because there is no other way. I challenge every premise of that assertion. The criminal justice system has at its disposal billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of personnel to enforce the law, not to mention the assistance of the U.S. military. If they cannot build cases with these resources without having to rely on suspect testimony then it is time to relieve them for incompetence. When the prosecution relys on accusations from alleged felons, in exchange for a benefit when that alleged felon is facing the most dire of consequences, is of the vilest of violations of liberty. I am not quite sure we should not be incarcerating the prosecuting attorneys for this plainly criminal act. I was utterly disgusted with their pious and cavalier attitude. It is apparent they have lost all conception of justice and operate as nothing less than mindless fools. I can assure you I will voice my objections to the Congress as justice demands no less.

Gus S. Currier III
chattanooga, tn


Certainly any kind of drug that makes an individual dysnfunctional is hurting that individual, but is the government doing any better with the methods is using to eradicate the problem? It shows in its own method the inability to comprehend what truly helps this country and their methods is only self serving with the appearance that they the people in charge are doing it to further their selfish egos. The question is after all this insanity the government displays what can the general population do to help the rest of the nation awaken to this destructive results of officials who use the snitching methods to carry on their jobs? Is everyone becoming a slave or prisoner to laws that are no making sense? If the government is happy with these results then we have more troubles ahead.

vancouver, wa


Thank you, PBS, for having the courage to expose one of the most sinister and destructive practices of the government in its war on drug users. Your program confirms what I have been saying for the past several years: we are bvecoming a nation of spies. Your excellent and daring program will hopefully be a wakeup call for the citizens of this country to demand reform.

Donald Topping
honolulu, hi


What war is fought without first identifying the real enemy? The "war on drugs" has yet to do battle with the true enemy; a cycle of poverty and hopelessness; domestic violence; child abuse: inadaquate social supports for families; and a lack of early intervention and treatment. When the bulk of the "drug war" resources are redirected to fight these underlying reason for drug abuse which has been identified in study after study, then we will win this "war". In the meantime, your program serves to highlight the abuses of a government whose misdirected effort against an unidentified enemy is and will continue to be a failure

Anna Diaz-White
keyport, nj


I am happy to have participated in Frontline's documentary entitled "SNITCH". It is clear the federal criminal justice system dealing with drug conspiracy has run out of control. The judical system will not correct itself. Politicians made the law on conspiracy and they will have to correct it. Hopefully since the system has been exposed nationally, it will be easier to gain the attention of congressional leaders who will become sponsors of legisaltion to stop the onslaught. Families For Equal Justice in Mobile has been foghting for the last five years to gain attention to this miscarriage of justice.

Fredrick D. Richardson
mobile, al


I agree totally that what was represented in this show was disgusting and goes against any reasonable view of justice or a free society based on the rights that we "supposedly" have as Americans. My concern is over what we can do to change a system that seems to be feeding on itself at the expense of our fellow citizens. I am sickened by this report and only hope that those in positions of responsibility will act and repair the damage done and prevent more from occuring. May God help us all if something isn't done to fix this huge loss for all of us.

new brighton, mn

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