Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

The Republic and HBO's The Wire PHIL-255-01: Snitches


Kahn, Jeremy. The Story of a Snitch. The Atlantic Monthly, April 2007, 80,

Prosecutors in the city can rattle off a litany of brutal retaliations: houses tirebombed. witnesses and their relatives shot, contract hits on 10-year-olds. Last December, the FBI voiced concern over a jump in violent crime, which in 2005 showed its biggest increase in more than a decade. The reasons for witnesses' reluctance appear to be changing and becoming MIDIV complex, with the police confronting a new cultural phenomenon: the spread of the gangland code of silence, or omerta, from organized crime to the population at large.

Rosenfeld, Richard, Bruce A. Jacobs, and Richard Wright. “Snitching and the Code of the Street.” British Journal of Criminology 43, no.2 (2003): 291–309. doi:10.1093/bjc/43.2.291.
(study in Great Britain) Drawing from interviews with 20 active street offenders, we explore the social meaning and consequences of snitching (the exchange of incriminating information for reward or leniency). The snitch violates the code of the street and is universally despised by street criminals. Although few of our respondents reported that they had or would provide information to the police, the interviews indicate that snitching is rampant. We found that some forms of snitching are more acceptable than others, and that most offenders resist the identity of the snitch even when they perform the role. We also found evidence that police practices may contribute to the retaliatory violence associated with snitching. We conclude that expanded legal access for street criminals may reduce reliance on informers and help contain the spread of violence.
Stillman, Sarah.  "The Throwaways." New Yorker 88, no. 26 (2012): 38-47, http://
The article discusses the ethics of using criminal offenders as confidential informants in U.S. law enforcement. It addresses the relatively high risk for low payoff for the informants, noting the promise of leniency from police and their reliance on young informants due to limited budgets. It comments on safety concerns for the informants and the concept of parens patriae.

The article focuses on the weakening social contract in Baltimore, Maryland. It mentions the ca se of Angela Dawson and her family who were murdered in October 2002 because of their cooperation with the authorities against the drug dealers in Baltimore. It recognizes the breakdown of trust between the Baltimore residents and the authorities after such incident and discusses two law enforcement programs, EXILE and Stop Snitching, aimed at addressing such mistrust. It proposes to resolve such issue by repairing the social contract in Baltimore.

Dennis, Andrea L.  Collateral damage? Juvenile snitches in America's "wars" on drugs, crime, and gangs  American Criminal Law Review. 46 no.3 (Summer 2009): 1145.
  Dennis contends that governments should temper the use of juveniles as informants by reliance on the doctrine of parens patriae. Doing so requires consideration of the harms that juveniles experience as a result of informing, rather than focusing solely on winning the "wars" on drugs, crime, and gangs for public safety. Consideration of the harms in turn dictates that governments adopt an extremely conservative approach to the use of juveniles as informants, thereby severely limiting and closely regulating their use. Children are one of society's most vulnerable and impressionable populations, and they are worthy of serious consideration and protection, even in the face of challenges to public safety. Thus, the government's use of juveniles as informants should be rare and highly regulated.
Werner, Ariel C.  What's in a name? challenging the citizen-informant doctrine. New York University Law Review 89, no. 6 (2014)): 2336.

  Over the last fifty years, courts and scholars have debated the utility and reliability of informants -- individuals who alert law enforcement to the occurrence of crime, point law enforcement in the direction of potential perpetrators, and help law enforcement prosecute those eventually charged. There are three primary types of criminal justice informants: (1) criminal and confidential informants, (2) anonymous tipsters, and (3) citizen-informants. Judicial examinations and scholarly critiques of informants have focused almost exclusively on the first two categories. These informants are deemed suspect, either because they are so enmeshed in the justice system that they have questionable motives, or because they inculpate others under a veil of anonymity. Meanwhile, the third category of informant -- the citizen-informant -- has evaded rigorous scrutiny because of the "citizen-informant doctrine," a premise embraced by the federal courts and many state courts. The citizen-informant doctrine reasons that individuals who witness or fall victim to crime and willingly identify themselves to law enforcement officers are presumptively reliable. This presumption enables law enforcement officers to conduct searches and seizures that would otherwise be unlawful based on uncorroborated reports from untested civilians. The citizen-informant doctrine has major consequences for the robustness of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unjustified government intrusions, and it has an enormous impact on the integrity of police investigations and criminal prosecutions. Yet this doctrine rests on shaky foundations that have heretofore been insufficiently probed. This Note proposes that courts require law enforcement officers to conduct more exacting inquiries before relying on the word of a so-called citizen-informant.

Rich, Michael L. . Lessons of disloyalty in the world of criminal informants. American Criminal Law Review 49, no.3 (2012): 1493. 

Without informants, policing would grind to a halt. The majority of drug and organized crime prosecutions hinge on the assistance of confidential informants, and white collar prosecutions and anti-terrorism investigations increasingly depend on them. Yet society, by and large, hates informants. The epithets used to describe them--"snitch," "rat," and "weasel," among others--suggest the reason: the informant, by assisting the police, is guilty of betrayal And betrayal is, in the words of George Fletcher, "one of the basic sins of our civilization. " But identifying disloyalty as the reason for society's disdain raises more questions than it answers. Are all informants disloyal, or only some? Are there governing principles to distinguish those informants who are disloyal from those who are not? To whom are these informants disloyal? What import does an informant's disloyalty have beyond the social stigma on the informant? These questions matter because informants are crucial cogs in the law enforcement machine, but they have largely escaped the attention of legal scholars. This Article seeks to remedy this oversight. First, it explores how disloyalty functions in today's society by looking to the observations of philosophers and legal scholars who have considered the nature of loyalty and disloyalty as moral constructs. The Article then examines three scenarios that suggest insights into when and why informants are considered disloyal. The first is the case of an accomplice-informant who assists police in apprehending and prosecuting her partners in crime. The second scenario is that of a community with particularized norms against cooperating with the police, with a focus on the "Stop Snitching" movement that has become increasingly influential in high-crime communities. The third scenario looks at informants in the rest of society, where particularized against assisting the police do not govern. The analysis of these scenarios reveals that issues of disloyalty arising from the use of informants intersect with and inform sociological research on the marginalization of communities and the impact of police legitimacy on civilian cooperation and compliance with the law, as well as scholarly concerns about overcriminalization. The Article then makes three policy proposals that aim to enhance civilian cooperation with law enforcement without undermining police effectiveness. First, it is proposed that police and prosecutors amend their informant screening guidelines to explicitly and publicly require consideration of loyalty issues arising from the use of a given informant. Public acknowledgement in this manner that law enforcement officials share important community values would encourage voluntary cooperation with police and compliance with the law. Second, law enforcement policymakers should curtail informant recruitment in marginalized communities that are home to anti-cooperation norms in favor of alternative policing strategies, as current policies that encourage the widespread use of informants undermine police-community relations in these communities. Finally, lawmakers should limit the use of initiatives, derogatorily called "snitch lines," that encourage civilians to report minor crimes and noncriminal suspicious behavior; and consider decriminalizing some minor regulatory-type offenses. Mainstream society's dissatisfaction with these programs, expressed in the harsh language of disloyalty, suggests discomfort with the snitch lines themselves, as well as the criminalization of the relatively minor offenses that they target. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

Search Terms



"confidential informant"

Articles in Popular & Scholarly Periodicals

Articles in Scholalry Journals