Prosecutors call them cooperating witnesses. The rest of the criminal justice system calls them rats, snitches, chivatos, stool pigeons, informants and sapos, just to name a few of the terms. The federal criminal justice system is built on these witnesses. So long as they tell “the truth,” they receive enormous reductions in their sentences. In some cases, sentences for defendants convicted after trial are 500 percent longer than sentences received by those who plead and cooperate with the government.
So it’s no surprise that trials have dropped from almost 20 percent of all cases in the 1980s to less than 3 percent today (with most all the rest of the cases resolving in a plea). Like the days of Salem witches, even the innocent are racing to plead guilty and to tell the prosecutors what they want to hear in the hopes of avoiding monstrous sentences.
There are many fundamental problems with such a system. One such issue is demonstrated in the Paul Manafort case, where the prosecution team just filed a status report with the court explaining that they have concluded that Manafort is not fulfilling his end of the plea agreement because, they say, he has lied to them during interviews (or as they are called in the system, debriefings). Manafort has said he has answered all of their questions truthfully. This may or may not be true.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
"Mueller should not get to decide whether Manafort is lying"
That's the title of my latest piece in The Hill. The intro: