What Happens When You Get Busted?
Continued from A Snitch Uncovered
You may be pressured to become a snitch
It happens all too often these days. You get busted and the next thing you know the cops are either threatening you or sweet-talking you into snitching on somebody else. They may promise to “help” you if you agree to become an informant. They may tell you that a friend arrested with you is already singing like a bird, and you should, too, if you want to save your ass (see “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” later in this book). They may say they already “know everything,” so you might as well tell “your side of the story” to make others look worse than you. If they think you’re particularly dumb and harmless, they might even take you out and buy you donuts while talking you into being their pawn (yes, Philadelphia cops actually did that in their successful effort to turn anti-drug-war activist Stacy Litz into a drug-war informant).
You may imagine, sitting here reading this, that you’d never, ever, ever stoop to snitching on other people. But the fact is, until we’ve been tested, not one of us really knows what we might do under the right kind of pressure or persuasion.
The good news is that just a bit of advanced preparation can help any of us understand how police get us to work against our own interests and how they turn scared people into informants. Some pretty minimal knowledge can help us protect ourselves and our rights. Some of this knowledge can help us avoid being busted in the first place. Some of it can help us withstand the cynical manipulations of cops and prosecutors if we do get busted.
Do NOT talk to cops. Period.
And remember: Everything we say about not talking to cops also goes for every, single kind of government agent, local, state, national, or international.
If you are confronted by a law-enforcement officer under any circumstances — at your front door, during a traffic stop, because you’ve been fingered by a snitch, or for any reason whatsoever — DO NOT TALK. If you get arrested, DO NOT TALK.
The only things you should ever say to a police officer are things like these:
- No, you may not search my vehicle.
- No, you may not enter my home.
- I do not consent to any search.
- Am I free to go?
- On the advice of my lawyer, I cannot talk to you.
- I will not talk without my lawyer present.
You should never lie to a cop because that in itself may be a crime.
You should never imagine you can outsmart a cop with clever talk. They’ve heard it all.
You should resist the temptation to babble nervously (very difficult for some of us).
Do not try to explain yourself (also very difficult for some of us).
Do not try to talk your way out of a situation except where you can state a legal or constitutional principle that demonstrates your innocence. This is a technique that can be used by people who photograph or videotape cops at work, people who legally open-carry weapons, or people who are legally protesting. (Even then you may still get busted and/or beat up, but you’ll be creating a case in your favor that might come in useful later.)
Oh yeah. And if you get tossed into jail, DON’T TALK TO YOUR CELLMATES OR THE JAILERS, EITHER. You can chitty-chat with your cellmates to pass the time and keep them from thinking you’re a jerk; you can probably also learn quite a bit from them. But DO NOT TALK about anything to do with your case. Even if you don’t think you’re admitting anything incriminating, you’re opening yourself up to every jailbird who might want to trade information, even false information about you, to the cops.
JUST SHUT UP!
Know a good lawyer, keep his or her card on you, and insist on talking to that lawyer if you ever get busted or even accosted by a cop who won’t take no for an answer.
Avoid using public defenders if you can. Not all of them are bad, but many of them are overworked and/or just geared to processing cases as fast as they can. They often deal with petty criminals who expect nothing more than to be “processed.” With rare and noble exceptions, they are probably not your best resource if you really hope to be represented as you wish.
The police officer is NOT your friend
Contrary to what you might have learned in kindergarten … contrary to what you might hope … and contrary to the image the officer might be trying to fake … THE POLICE OFFICER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. Let us say that again, just in case you didn’t get it the first time: THE POLICE OFFICER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave most of your life, you’ve probably heard of the “bad cop/good cop” technique. When you’ve been arrested and are being interrogated, one cop will bully and intimidate you until you’re just a little puddle of terror. Then another cop (who may be present at the same time or who may come in later) will pretend to sympathize with you and want to “help” you.
Don’t ever believe it.
If you’ve done your proper work and just said no to interrogation or said you’d only speak with your lawyer present, you may avoid this particular form of manipulation. But wherever and whenever you meet a cop — or any federal agent or investigator, a jailer or a prosecutor — who acts like he’s “on your side” or wants to “help” you or promises to get the system to “go lighter on you” — DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT!
Again remember: Everything we say about not talking to cops also goes for every, single kind of government agent, local, state, national, or international.
Attorney safety tip:
[In the bad cop/good cop technique] Officer A will threaten you, your family, your friends, your pets, with severe harm going back nigh unto the 10th generation. Officer B will then call him off and suggest that “just a little cooperation” on your part will help avert all that.
Also be aware that sometimes they don’t HAVE to lie to get what they want from you. Seriously, I’ve lost count of the number of defendants I’ve dealt with who were skaaaaaREWED by talking to the PD and who told me, “But the officer was so NIIIICE.” Not every officer is going to be Officer McGruff – the “Officer Friendly” model can achieve amazing results.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
When “the authorities” have arrested you and want to turn you into a snitch, they have a powerful phenomenon on their side. It’s particularly useful if you’ve been busted along with friends or associates, or even if the cops persuade you that they have busted or will soon be busting others in your circle. (And remember again, cops are among the biggest liars on the planet.)
In game theory, the phenomenon is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. It works something like this:
Two (or more) people are arrested but the police don’t have enough information to convict either of you.
They separate the arrestees and offer each a similar deal; if you cooperate (testify against your friend, agree to become a snitch) and your friend remains silent, you’ll go free. Your friend will be hit with the full legal penalty.
On the other hand, if you rat each other out, you may both get a lesser sentence.
On yet another hand, you realize that if you both remain silent, you both may go free — but you have absolutely no idea what your companion is doing — and the cops have given you both quite a lot of incentive to rat each other out.
In game theory, according to Wikipedia, “… the logical decision leads each to betray the other, even though their individual ‘prize’ would be greater if they cooperated.” In reality, if you and your fellow arrestee were allowed to discuss your decisions, you’d probably both opt to clam up; it’s part of the goodness of human beings that we’d rather cooperate than betray. However, the police are going to keep you apart through this process as best they can, which makes the temptation to betray seem the only logical, self-protective course of action.
Sitting here, safely reading this booklet, you might very well say to yourself, “I’m a good person. I would never rat out my friend.” You imagine yourself thrusting out your chin and saying, “NO!” no matter what the personal cost to you.
And there are really some people who would do that. But they’re in the minority.
In reality, you don’t know how scared you’d be. You might be sitting there worrying about what your mother would think if you went to jail. You might be terrified of losing your job and being unable to pay your bills. You may have a pet or child at home you’re desperate to get back to. The police will remind you that if you go to jail you’d be leaving your newborn baby or disabled spouse without protection. The police might badger you until you’ll agree to anything just to have some peace.
Relationships between friends and associates complicate matters, too. Seeking self-justification, you might tell yourself you’re just an innocent who got dragged into the whole situation by the other person. You might think, “Hm, well Bill’s probably ratting me out right now,” or “Well, there was that time when Mary didn’t treat me fairly, so why should I sacrifice myself for her?” One snitch justified her betrayal of principle by telling herself that she’d be “more effective” as a political activist if she didn’t go to jail; she told herself she would only snitch on certain people, ones she didn’t know well or like very much.
So you never know.
If you’re arrested and more than one person in your circle might join you, the only way to avoid The Prisoner’s Dilemma is to decide in advance that you WILL NOT TALK and make sure all your associates are well schooled in their legal right to keep silent. Have them read this booklet!
But as always, there are no guarantees. We keep saying that. It’s sadly true.
Mindset: The common territory between snitches and victims
Another reason that it’s often easy for cops to turn victims into snitches is that there’s sometimes a common mindset between people who snitch and people who fall into the traps set by snitches.
Obviously, this isn’t true of everybody who gets busted or otherwise becomes the target of a snitch. But both snitches and their easiest “marks” are frequently:
- Overly naive and trusting
- Unprepared for bad things happening to them
- Cocky and overly confident
- Loudmouthed or prone to blat information without thinking
- Prone to believe that “nice” cops really do want to “help” them (yes, it’s another form of being overly naive and trusting, but it bears repeating because if you get caught because you trusted a rat you’re more likely to turn around and trust that rat’s handlers)
- Very good at rationalizing their own less-than-stellar behavior
- (Or conversely) So idealistic and starry-eyed that reality, when it hits, knocks them for a loop.
What happens if you refuse to snitch?
If you refuse to snitch or otherwise cooperate with government, the prosecutor may pin more charges on you and may pursue them with more determination. Worse, prosecutors may threaten to bring charges against those you love.
Or that may not happen. Sometimes pressure to snitch is just a gambit and nothing terrible will happen to you for refusing.
If you do refuse to snitch and “the man” becomes more threatening, consider going public with your courageous refusal. This might offer you some protection and will very likely gain you friends and supporters. As soon as you’re out on bail, tell your associates what happened to you. Blog about it. Put it out on social media. Explain the kind of pressures that were put on you. Describe what you felt and endured. Describe why and how you refused to become a tool of the police.
You’ll be wise if you have a good lawyer on your side from the get-go. Our helpful attorney notes: “This is a good reason for ‘lawyering up’ in the first place. People make fun of lawyers, but there’s a reason we exist. Of course, keep in mind that the prosecutor is a lawyer, too, so it’s not necessarily all to the good.”
What if your lawyer advises you to snitch?
Some lawyers in some circumstances will advise a client to go ahead and accept an offer to snitch in exchange for more lenient treatment. Sometimes there are practical reasons: you’re guilty as hell, the cops have the evidence to prove it, and your lawyer thinks that cooperating would be the best way for you to avoid a long prison sentence. Sometimes, on the other hand, your lawyer’s just a lazy SOB who doesn’t give much of a damn and thinks turning snitch is the easiest resolution — for him.
If you are strongly opposed to snitches and snitching, tell your lawyer up front that, whatever else happens, you’re not going to do that. Then if your lawyer pressures you to accept any agreement that involves snitching, get a new lawyer.
And remember, it’ll probably help your case a lot if you AVOID TALKING TO THE POLICE. AT ALL.
What happens if you become a snitch — and regret it?
If you are reasonably cautious in your real-world dealings and if you have prepared yourself NOT TO TALK TO GOVERNMENT AGENTS, the chances are good that nobody will successfully arm-twist or sweet-talk you into becoming a snitch. Even if you get busted, you’ll handle yourself in a way that will make you less vulnerable to manipulation. (NOT TALKING may also help you in other ways, but here we’re just talking about avoiding being pressured into snitching.)
But the simple fact is that anybody can break under the right kind of pressure — and government agents are trained in sophisticated terror and manipulation tactics. Once you fall into their clutches, you may simply be in over your head. So what if, under pressure, you agree to become a snitch — and regret it later? What if you agree to do it, then before you actually snitch on anybody, you realize you don’t want to, can’t, and won’t betray other people?
If you become a snitch and don’t regret it enough to stop, then to hell with you.
But having agreed to snitch, then changed your mind, you’ve got a tough dilemma and you could use some assistance getting out of it. You are going to have to be careful, brave, and more than a little bit lucky to handle the situation well.
First, you need a GOOD lawyer. You should have had one before you agreed to snitch, but definitely get one to advise you now.
Consider going public with your situation. Tell your associates what happened to you. Blog about it. Put your story out on social media. Explain the kind of pressures that were put on you. Describe what you felt and endured while being pushed into agreeing to snitch. Then state in the strongest terms why you realized you would not and could not do it.
Be prepared to lose some friends. You may gain friends and supporters by openly revealing how the cops treated you and how you ultimately resisted. But some people will distrust you; that’s just reality.
What happens to you if you snitch and your friends find out?
Chances are, if you’re a non-violent political activist or small-time dealer of “college type” drugs who got busted and turned, your friends will hate you but won’t beat you up or kill you if they learn you snitched on them.
However, your reputation will be ruined and good luck earning it back.
If you snitch and get caught, at the very least be ready to humbly accept whatever those you betrayed dish out to you; you only make things worse by making excuses.
If your snitching has gotten others into legal trouble, you should accept that, at the very least, you owe them restitution. This may be difficult to do, especially since you may be facing serious criminal charges and huge expenses yourself. But it’s your responsibility and you’ll have to do it if you ever expect to be taken seriously again.
If you are part of a violent group or you deal hard drugs, don’t be surprised if you get killed. Or as our helpful attorney says (with a nod to Captain Mal Reynolds of Firefly), “Prepare to be surprised very briefly. Or perhaps not so briefly; torture may be involved first.”
The rest of your life if you do snitch
If you agree to snitch on your friends or associates, know in advance that you’re going to have a big price to pay.
At best, snitches have to spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders.
Your “friends” in the police department or any federal agency that you snitch for will turn out not to be your real friends. They will toss you aside like a piece of maggoty meat when you no longer serve their purposes. Those promises they made to protect your anonymity? Maybe they’ll keep them, but they’re just as likely to leak your name or “accidentally” put your name into a public document. They may even force you into life-threatening situations and not give one bit of a damn what happens to you. After all, you’re just a snitch. Snitches are a dime a dozen — and even the cops know they’re scum.
Want to see how much “love” cops give their snitches? Read this New Yorker article about young, naive — and now DEAD — snitches. (“The Throwaways”).
Your snitching will probably not be important enough to earn you a spot in the Witness Protection Program, not even if you put your life in danger for your cop-handlers’ sake.
You will be on your own and in peril.
You will have to live with yourself and if you have any self-awareness at all, every time you look in a mirror, a person you don’t want to be will stare back at you.
If you snitch on friends or otherwise-harmless people, you should and (if you have any decency) you will feel an obligation to make things right by paying restitution or campaigning to get them out of prison. This obligation, which you might never be able to fulfill, could haunt you the rest of your life.
On the other hand, things could be resolved very easily. Your betrayed associates may kill you and you won’t have to worry about any of this.
To be continued in The Reid Interrogation Technique
Excerpted from Rats! Your guide to protecting yourself against snitches, informers, informants, agents provocateurs, narcs, finks, and similar vermin by Claire Wolf and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commerical-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
That mouthful means that it is okay to copy and distribute this booklet for non-commercial purposes as long as you attribute it to the original source. Feel free. Go for it. Have at it. Spread the word.
On the other hand, you may not alter or add to the text in any way.
And you may not reproduce or distribute any part of this work for commercial purposes, period. Do not do either of those things.