Monday, February 25, 2013

Snitching rules sharply focused in local case

Shades of Deep Throat
“Rule 508” framed by 6th Amendment

Waco – In the bullets lettres world of crime drama, snitching is a film noir attraction, a human chess game of blind man's bluff played out on a blood-spattered stage in the darkened theater of cruelty.

The drama that occurs in courtrooms nationwide where they fight the battles of the war on drugs is as plain as day; it's as raw and horror-ridden as the Damon Runyan story about the gangster who made his rivals shoot craps with dice that had no spots on them, leaving he and he alone to interpret the worth of their rolls in a desolate basement where many people had been murdered.

It's as chilling as the Emmett Grogan tale about the people who paid $5 apiece to watch a snitch - a desperate, dope-sick heroin junkie - fire a syringe-load of battery acid scraped from an automobile's corroded starter terminal into a vein in his arm. Peeking at the spectacle around a corner as it was reflected by a mirror on a bureau, Grogan said the crowd of enemies watched in silence as the dude died, before he could even get the needle out of his arm.

No doubt people at the Waco Tea Party February meeting to be held at 7 p.m. tonight in Sam's on the Square at Third and Austin will want to know all about the reasons McLennan County Criminal District Attorney Abel Reyna called off an organized crime case against seven people over the future health and safety of snitches who came forward to help the Waco cops make their case.

First Assistant Prosecutor Michael Jarrett promised he would refuse to prosecute the case if the Waco police detective who worked the case continued to refuse to give him the names of the informants. Rule 508 says the prosecution has the privilege of knowing who the snitches are - and presumably what they got in return for their information. 

Judge Strother had conducted an in camera inspection of the materials and learned that the informants had not been direct witnesses to the act, that their information concerned matters peripheral to the incident. He ruled that the privilege didn't extend to the defense attorney.

It didn't matter to the cops and their lawyer. They said no, and when by Monday afternoon at quitting time they had not given their assent, Mssrs. Reyna and Jarrett dropped the indictments against them for engaging in organized criminal activity.

It's not about getting convictions, they both assured the Court – as well as the public.

It's about justice.

The Legislature has required that all evidence and testimony that is based on information gleaned from a confidential informant must be corroborated by and through other sources of information. Why? Sometimes a desperate criminal will lie – just haul off and flat-footed lie – about things that will put another person away for a long, long time.

Then, there's the matter of the Sixth Amendment. That's the one that guarantees speedy prosecution, the right to representation by an attorney, and this.

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the be confronted with the witnesses against him...”

It wasn't the popular thing to do, Mr. Reyna said in following up in his daily Facebook remarks. Not everyone understands. Some ignore the very basis of criminal evidence, including this:

     (c) The prosecutor should be aware that Sixth Amendment right to counsel issues raised by the filing of criminal charges may limit the availability of some investigative options, including:
       (i) use of the grand jury as an investigative technique;
       (ii) soliciting incriminating information from a charged individual; and
       (iii) contacts with the individuals or entities who have been charged.

  • American Bar Association Standards on Prosecutorial Investigations

Things change immediately and in a big way when a former defendant is no longer under indictment.

The man will available to take questions at 7 p.m., tonight at Sam's.

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