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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Threats against cooperators and calls for secrecy

Earlier this year, the Federal Judicial Center released a report assessing threats against federal defendants who cooperate: Survey of Harm to Cooperators.  A survey of federal judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and probation officers showed that the majority of these legal officials were aware of threats to or harms against cooperating defendants in one or more cases.  The survey identified hundreds of cases in which cooperators or witnesses were threatened or harmed.

The Marshall Project reported on this issue today in an article entitled "Is the Internet endangering criminal informants? A judicial committee proposes more secrecy."  A committee of the Judicial Conference has called for more secrecy regarding cooperator status, including proposals to routinely seal records or create special "sealed supplements" to every case.  But there are several problems with this approach.  As the Marshall Project put it:

"Many defense attorneys and free speech advocates say that the proposed new rules are troublesome (and perhaps unlawful) for at least two reasons. First, they say, creating a sealed annex in every case could deprive the public, and the media, of basic information that goes beyond the issue of cooperation. Second, several defense attorney told me this week the proposed new rules could have the perverse effect of making life even more dangerous for informants; the existence of sealed supplement would mean every inmate was presumed to be a “snitch” unless proven otherwise. And such proof would be hard to come by with the information sealed."