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If Nobody Talks, Everybody Walks

There used to be conspiracy cases in which all of the defendants kept their mouths shut. Scott Greenfield wrote in the comments to my Time to Take a Stand? post about one such case:

Ah. I remember a 26 defendant conspiracy with 2 years of wires, where we held them together and only 1 defendant took a bullet for a small amount of coke he had on him when he was arrested. Ah, the days before rats.

The nostalgic tone is fitting. The days of “nobody talks, everybody walks” are mostly behind us now. A federal conspiracy case without rats is damn near unheard-of. There are still plenty of old-school lawyers who see snitching as the last option (if it’s an option at all), but they are more and more outnumbered by NASCAR lawyers, who can only go in one direction, and do it as quickly as they can.

If there are more than a couple of defendants in a case, one of them is probably going to cooperate with the government. If there are more than three or four defendants, the cooperation of one is going to lead to the cooperation of others.

If the federal government picked twenty ordinary people at random and charged them all with a totally imaginary cocaine conspiracy, one of them would be so frightened by the prospect of going to federal prison that he would plead guilty and testify against the others.

Faced with the fabricated conspiracy and the rat, two others would be eager to get on the bus and cooperate against the remaining 17 for the possibility of a 5K1.

Afraid of the three rats and the invented conspiracy, 15 others would line up to debrief at the U.S. Attorney’s office. Of these, three would be unable to tell a convincing enough story at the first proffer session, and the government would laugh in their faces.

Five people would remain standing, and go to trial together.

The government doesn’t have to corroborate its informants’ testimony. Four of the five would be convicted based on the fabricated testimony of fifteen rats. All told, nineteen people would be convicted of participating in a cocaine conspiracy that never existed.



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