We've all seen TV shows and movies where the rat-faced guy in a crime ring is a snitch, and ends up with a reduced sentence. But reality is a bit different.
One technical term for "snitching" in the legal world is accomplice testimony, and while it is real, it works a little differently than TV legal dramas would have you think, as a blog called Prosecutor's Discretion points out. It's not as dangerous as it appears on screen, but neither is it a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Giving police information as an informant can help reduce your sentence, according to Snitching.org, but it's not an automatic process. If you want to get the benefit, you have to offer a good deal.
When you really break it down, being a snitch is a form of plea bargain. The informant exchanges information for a potentially lower sentence.
Prosecutors have a lot to consider when trying to build a case, and accomplice testimony isn't always considered a good choice. For it to be effective, prosecutors must know that the accomplice will help the case more than hurt it.
When an accomplice testifies, the defendant's attorney can cross-examine him and try to discredit his testimony. If the accomplice has lied to police in the past or gotten a particularly good deal, that may work against the prosecution's case. The risk has to be weighed against the value of the accomplice's testimony.
If you've been arrested for a crime and are thinking about testifying as an accomplice in exchange for a shorter sentence, first talk to your attorney about it.
In general, whatever you tell your attorney has to be kept confidential (though the attorney-client privilege can be destroyed in some cases). Give your lawyer all the facts about what you have to offer the prosecution, and he can tell you whether it will help or hurt your case.
It may also help your conscience to know that in most cases, your testimony can't be the only information against the defendant. In general, there must be corroborating evidence of an accomplice's testimony before there can be a conviction.
Remember, any testimony about the issue you've been arrested for can be used against you at your own trial. You could end up getting yourself in trouble if you aren't careful.
If you truly have something to offer the prosecution as evidence against an accomplice, then it may be worth working with your attorney to leverage that information. But if your attorney doesn't think it's worthwhile, it's probably best to focus on your own case instead.
- Supreme Court Reinstates Accomplice Conviction (FindLaw's Third Circuit Blog)
- Rapper 'Steel' Simmons Doesn't Snitch; Gets 15 to 30 For Murder (FindLaw's Philadelphia Criminal Law News Blog)
- Who You Callin' A Rat? Mob Informant Loses Defamation Suit (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
- Criminal Defense Strategies (FindLaw)