Snitches Helping Themselves
August 4, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Judge Kopf recently wrote a post giving some pointers on representing snitches in the federal court system. In it, he expressed some pretty strong opinions on lawyers who won’t stoop to doing that kind of work:
Moreover, for many “snitches,” cooperation is the only salvation for them and their families. What the hell would you do if you were caught after being hooked into an enterprise so cruel and so violent that you had no choice but to participate? The two most frightened “snitches” I have ever seen were two big-time mules for a Mexican cartel that picked up money and delivered drugs throughout the Midwest. Their deal with the government was to get their families out of Mexico. So, screw you if don’t represent snitches. Those poor bastards needed someone’s help, not to mention their wives and children.
The old saying is that “the gods help those who help themselves.” Some snitches take that to heart, only with the police, the prosecutor or the judge playing the role of deity. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued a decision overturning the conviction of a big time drug kingpin poor bastard who wasn’t hurting anyone. The case went like this:
This case began when the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET) began investigating Corey Telfor. Telfor was a medical-marijuana caregiver and patient, but MAGNET’s search of his home uncovered an impermissible amount of marijuana. Detective Eric Leonard offered Telfor an opportunity to mitigate the legal consequences against him by assisting with controlled drug buys on MAGNET’s behalf. Telfor agreed.
So, obviously, Telfor went to the bad part of town, hunted up the toughest and most dangerous smack and/or coke dealer he could find, and put his life in danger to expiate his guilt, right? Wrong:
At the preliminary examination, Telfor described that he suggested Johnson as a possible target. The two worked together at a manufacturing facility, but in different departments. Telfor knew that Johnson was a medical marijuana patient.
Johnson had been hired as a production line worker in February 2013. His $10.40 hourly wage made it difficult to support his family of four. Telfor was a supervisor in the welding department. An entry-level welder earns more than $4 an hour over a linesman’s wage, and there was room for advancement in the welding department. Telfor agreed to meet Johnson every day in the shop before work to teach him welding. Telfor told Johnson, “[I]f [you] take care of [me], [I will] take care of [you].” Johnson interpreted this to mean that Telfor’s assistance was conditioned on Johnson providing marijuana when requested.
Telfor arranged for Johnson’s transfer to the welding department, and in return Johnson sold him a small amount of marijuana three times. After the third sale, Johnson was arrested. The buys took place over a period of several months, and in the meantime Telfor made himself out to be a Johnson’s friend…reeling him in for the catch, as it were.
Well, so what? Selling marijuana is illegal, and God knows to what use Johnson, this dirty dealer of the devil’s weed, was putting his ill-gotten gains:
Johnson has a wife and two children to support, yet he was earning only $10.40 an hour on the production line. The additional $4.10 or $4.20 an hour as a welder was “a lot of stress relief” to Johnson’s family. Johnson was able to pay off expenses incurred for his father-in-law’s funeral and work toward buying a newer, safer vehicle for his wife. He secured contact lenses for one son and orthodontic treatment for the other. Johnson was able to purchase nicer clothing for his children so they would be “more presentable at school” and took the family camping. Johnson did not seek out advancement at work to live a lavish lifestyle. Johnson’s promotion essentially brought the family above the poverty line.
And Johnson felt obligated to continue to satisfy Telfor’s requests once Telfor became his supervisor in the welding department and held Johnson’s job security in his hands.
Funeral expenses, a better car (a late model Lamborghini, no doubt), the gift of sight for one kid and straightened teeth for another, along with some nicer clothes. And that wasn’t even from the marijuana sales, it was because the snitch bribed him with a better job.
What’s interesting about this case is that the Court of Appeals actually recognized economic pressure as a means of entrapment, and that for someone making $10.40 an hour with a wife and two kids, “bringing his family above the poverty line” provides one hell of a motivation to break the law. And even more than that, that they had enough empathy to rule in his favor.
As any lawyer who has seen his client led out of the courtroom in cuffs for not paying fines, fees, or restitution can tell you, this is pretty rare. Judges tend to be upper middle class, in income (always), outlook (usually), and origin (more often than not); and usually haven’t run into the situation of having to choose between the rent, the power bill and the court fees.
Their Honors had an excellent line as to what went on in this case:
The result of MAGNET’s method was to use a minnow to spawn and capture an even smaller fish.
So, kudos to the Michigan Court of Appeals, both for the analogy and the decision. To use less judicial language, way to call them on their bullshit.
 There’s something I don’t say every day.