Informants (or snitches) provide information to law enforcement and prosecutors in exchange for some type of benefit—sometimes they are paid for their information or provide testimony against other co-defendants so that they can get their charges dropped or reduced, i.e., two-years’ probation versus ten years imprisonment. This is not only legal, but also common practice in state and federal court.
One of the reasons prosecutors love using informants is because of the breadth and scope of information they can provide in a particular case. Informants give prosecutors the inside baseball if you will—on how a criminal organization runs and operates. They provide crucial details such as who supplied drugs, who committed the murder, where is the smoking gun hidden, and who were the people involved in the heist.
But what happens when informants accuse an innocent person of committing a crime? Worse yet—what happens when a prosecutor charges an innocent person of a crime based on information provided by a less than honest informant? That’s when you need to get an attorney with the training and experience to successfully cross-examine a snitch.
During the last week of October (2015), The National Criminal Defense College (NCDC) sponsored a terrific course on advanced cross examination techniques in Atlanta, Georgia. (It is the best cross-examination seminar I have attended as an attorney). NCDC faculty showed practicing lawyers how to cross-examine snitches and witnesses based on their prior inconsistent statements, plea-bargain agreements, and criminal histories.
The best part of the course was the quality and experience of the faculty instructors. Terry MacCarthy and Steve Lindsay were two of the instructors at the course. MacCarthy is considered the Godfather of cross-examination. The techniques and theories he teaches are used by civil and criminal attorneys throughout the United States. Steve Lindsay is also one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the country. Listening to Steve speak on cross-examination techniques is like listening to Tom Brady discuss how to read an NFL defense. It was very cool stuff.
Other topics covered at the course include how to cross a witness on his or her: (1) iffy or impossible perceptions; (2) ability to recall or recant what occurred; and (3) Bias, interest, and motive to testify.
When done correctly, cross-examination is a very powerful tool that can be used by a criminal defense attorney to help secure an acquittal for a client. When done without properly preparing . . . it can be suicidal for the client.
GENARO R. CORTEZ