Snitches’ Lives Matter
July 20, 2016 (Fault Lines) — In the prison population hierarchy, the only thing lower than a child molester is a snitch. While there are white collar snitches, my experience with snitches is almost exclusively with those offenders who have agreed to help the government in drug cases. In this post, I want to write briefly about what criminal defense lawyers should think about when representing a cooperator in a drug case. Then I want to hear your thoughts.
A snitch who lands at a federal prison (not a camp) will soon meet with the “shot caller.” This person will confront the new inmate, demanding: “Give me your papers.” By that, he means your Presentence Report, your plea agreement, your indictment, the judgment and committal order and so forth.
When you say you don’t have any of that stuff, you will be told you have two weeks to get it. If you don’t, you may well die after being stabbed 106 times until there is little or no blood left in your body. At the very least you will be extorted (for “rent”) or you will be beaten or raped or both.
If you think I am exaggerating, you are either stupid or have never represented a snitch in a drug case pending in federal court. Snitches can and do die in federal prisons at the hands of other inmates. See, e.g., Colin Guy, Con who cut deal testifies in death of snitch in Beaumont penitentiary, Beaumont Enterprise (April 20, 2009).
One day after Keith Barnes entered a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, he was dead. In brief, Brother Barnes died this way:
Barnes, according to assistant U.S. Attorney John Craft, was stabbed in the chest 106 times by Marlon “Funk” Mosely on May 7, 2005, while Ebron held Barnes in a choke hold. Barnes died one day after he arrived at the prison.
. . .
Ebron, Mosely and the other men accused of participating in a conspiracy to kill Barnes are all members of the “D.C. crew,” jurors were told by crewmember and inmate Charles “Little C” Sherman. He said the group of about 250 inmates from the D.C. area watch out for each other at the Beaumont federal penitentiary.
FCI Beaumont is located approximately 35 miles from the Gulf of Mexico; 100 miles east of Houston; and 268 miles west of New Orleans, Louisiana. It is a bad place to die, even though it is “only” a “medium” security facility.
Before I get to my “tips” on snitches, I have two points.
First, if you are the kind of criminal defense lawyer who says he or she will never represent a snitch then you are probably an asshole unworthy of the designation lawyer, let alone criminal defense lawyer. We have plenty of Social Justice Warriors and not enough criminal defense lawyers to represent people they would otherwise despise.
Our culture hates snitches. Certainly, the media dislikes snitches. For example, take a look at the Frontlines “documentary” that has the following introduction: “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.”
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.
Second, behind the scenes, the federal judiciary, in conjunction with the Bureau of Prisons, is beginning to take violence toward snitches in prison seriously. I won’t reveal details for obvious reasons, but for once things are being done that will be unnoticeable to most people, but these measures are well-thought out and hold out the hope that federal prisons don’t need to be a figurative and literal hell on earth for cooperators.
But snitches are and always will be in grave — and I mean very grave — danger once they enter prison and so too will their families. See here for one of several internet sites that “out” snitches. So, I next set forth several tips if you represent a snitch in a federal drug case:
- Have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the offender about the dangers (and benefits) of cooperation, not only to the offender but his or her family. (I well remember an MS-13 wannabe gang that decided to shoot up the home of the elderly parents of a snitch.)
- Never allow a cooperator to keep his or her “discovery.” Let them read it, but for God’s sake don’t let them keep it in their cell. That is most especially true of “proffer statements” from your client. If you want your client killed, just give him his “proffer statements” to keep.
- If your client is going to testify, never, never allow him or her to go back to the same prison. That should be a condition of agreeing to testify. Getting yanked out prison only to come back several months later is literally a scarlet letter.
- If your district is like ours, and sentence reductions normally take place via Rule 35(b) (as opposed to a U.S.S.G. §5K1.1 motion at the original sentencing) do not allow the defendant to leave prison. Don’t let him appear by telephone. Tell him to go about his business as normal and you will talk to him over the phone when it is all said and done.
- Your job is not over at sentencing. It is your job to see your client gets to the safest prison possible. Do the research—it is out there. Talk to the probation officer and see if she or he will help with the BOP designator. By all means, request the judge to state in the J&C that in “the strongest possible terms, the undersigned recommends placement at X.”
- Figure out those who are most harmed by your client’s cooperation. Get the judge to tell the probation officer to call the designator for the BOP with a list of names that your client should not ever be housed with in the same prison.
Now, I want to hear from you about your “tips” and your experiences. That is, unless of course you believe that snitches lives don’t matter.
Richard G. Kopf
United States District Judge (Nebraska)