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Snitches and Mandatory Sentencing

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In the past five years, nearly one third of defendants in federal drug trafficking cases have received reduced sentences because they cooperated with prosecutors: they snitched. Since the passing of strict federal anti-drug legislation, informants, or snitches, have become key players in drug prosecutions, a practice that was originally intended to help prosecutors catch drug kingpins, but more and more, has yielded opposite results. Snitches can usually only name people who occupy the lower positions in the drug-dealing world, and so our prisons are filled with small-time offenders serving extended sentences. Alarmingly, the word of a snitch is weighed as heavily as physical evidence in court. People can be convicted of drug charges solely on the word of snitches, without any substantiating physical evidence.

Next Tuesday, PBS’ “Frontline” will air a powerful documentary, “Snitch.” The film looks at how mandatory minimum sentencing laws, coupled with the use of informants, have given minor offenders harsh sentences on the word of a snitch. Today we talk to the producer of the documentary, as well as people whose lives have been affected by these harsh laws.


  • Ofra Bickell, Producer of the Frontline special “Snitch.”
  • Eric Sterling, former counsel to the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime. Author of the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing legislation.
  • Kathleen Krietie, mother of Joey Settembrino, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison under a mandatory drug sentence.
  • Willy Huntley, former prosecutor who now says that the mandatory sentencing laws are flawed and should be revised by Congress.
  • Sally McGee, resident of Uniontown, Alabama. Nine members of her family were convicted on drug charges solely on the word of an informant.

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