Three years after Baltimore drew national attention with the release of the street-produced DVD Stop Snitching, witness intimidation remains one of the biggest impediments to solving and successfully prosecuting homicides and shootings, reports the Baltimore Sun. Changes to state law have helped authorities battle the problem, but a street culture labeling those who cooperate with police and prosecutors as “rats” and “snitches” remains. “It’s a problem that, for the moment, appears to be here to stay,” said Chief Judge John Glynn of the criminal division.
This year in the Baltimore area, at least three people have been killed in shootings that police believe were calculated efforts to silence a witness. Less-lethal – and more common – forms of intimidation range from spray-painted graffiti to stare-downs in the courtroom. After the publicity generated by the Stop Snitching DVD in late 2004, the General Assembly passed legislation that doubled the potential prison sentence for intimidating a witness and made it possible for prosecutors to put in evidence the tape-recorded statements of witnesses who have gone missing. Those reforms have produced some real results. In the two years the law has been on the books, prosecutors have charged about 175 witness-intimidation cases and used or threatened to use the provision for playing taped statements of absent witnesses in several major cases.