Friday, March 23, 2012

Miami New Times series on juvenile informant

Enriquez Bosco was 15 years old when he became an informant for the police, providing information against one of Miami's most notorious gangs. This three-part series in the Miami New Times documents Bosco's travails--including drug addition, rape, and ultimately deportation--from which his handlers failed to protect him and in some cases, may have brought on. From Part 2 of the story:
Enriquez's story begins and ends in Nicaragua, where he was exiled this past June. Though he had cooperated with Miami police to bust as many as 30 gang members -- including leaders of the infamous International Posse -- authorities allowed him to be beaten, raped, and exiled to the country of his birth with barely a mention of his service. His crime: a guilty plea to possessing traces of cocaine, a third-degree felony that required two days in jail. It resulted from a long-ago drug habit that started when police employed him to make a drug buy.
Juvenile informants often incur terrible risks with little or no protection from the legal system. For an indepth look at the phenomenon, see Andrea Dennis, "Collateral Damage? Juvenile Snitches in America's Wars on Drugs, Crime and Gangs," 46 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1145 (2009).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The way it's supposed to work: organizational informants

The strongest arguments for informant use are connected to the nature of criminal organizations: informants permit the government to get information about, infiltrate, and destabilize group criminal activity. The most famously effective such deployment was the FBI's use of informants to go after the mafia, a success story that is often invoked in support of informant use more generally. Of course even that success story had its costs: see this post on the dangers of mafia informants.

These tactics are now on display in several recent cases regarding insider trading and computer hacking, in which the use of informants has not only permitted prosecution of individual wrongdoers but may be weakening the culture of collective wrongdoing itself. According to this Reuters report, "[t]he FBI says it has enough informants lined up to keep its investigations of suspected illegal insider trading at hedge funds going for at least five more years." The New York Times opines that the conversion of a leading hacker into an informant "will sow even more distrust and dissension in the ranks of [the international hacker movement]." In both communities, the knowledge that colleagues and peers may be informants could well chill criminal activity. At the same time, the government should be careful not to send the message that becoming an informant is a get-out-of-jail-free card, a double-message that could undermine deterrence. See this post.