Ethan Brown’s target in the new book “Snitch” is Section 5K1.1 of the U.S. sentencing rulebook, which grants accused criminals huge reductions in punishment if they offer “substantial assistance” in convicting others, says a review in the San Francisco Chronicle. The law is written so vaguely and applied so indiscriminately, Brown writes, that it has created a cottage industry of false testimony from criminals looking to save their own skin. It’s a never-ending spiral (person A fingers B and C, who finger D, E, and F, who finger …) that results in astonishing miscarriages of justice, a number of which Brown chronicles in detail.
If Brown is correct, such cases are alarmingly common; the American Civil Liberties Union says that as many as 80 percent of U.S. drug cases are based on information from snitches. With the sentences for even small-beans offenses as harsh as they are, the U.S. prison population has skyrocketed in recent years, giving us the world’s highest incarceration rate. And 60 percent of those serving time for drug crimes are black. The Chronicle say that “Snitch” is likely to be a tough read for those who aren’t already fascinated by the topic: “The book kicks off with nearly 50 pages of eye-glazing history on America’s convoluted drug laws before a human narrative emerges – and when it does emerge, the reader is often left puzzling about why certain stories were included.”