To Snitch or Not to Snitch

The Outrageous Fortune (and Memes) of Tekashi 6ix9ine

Flamboyant rapper-turned-State’s witness Tekashi 6ix9ine has been making a lot of headlines. Along with giving rise to hilarious internet memes, the strange story of 6ix9ine can also provide some insights into the widely-unpopular activity of snitching and how it might be relevant to criminal law in Indiana.

A sprawling, five-year federal investigation culminated with criminal charges being filed against 12 alleged members of the Nine Trey Gangsters, an East Coast set of the infamous Bloods street gang. Of the 12 defendants, none has cooperated with the State more generously than Tekashi 6ix9ine. After his arrest in November 2018, 6ix9ine initially entered a not guilty plea. It didn’t take long, however, for the self-described “killer” to look at the prospect of a minimum 47-year prison sentence and reconsider his options. By January 2019, 6ix9ine had folded like origami, becoming the first defendant to plead guilty and agreeing to testify against his co-defendants. With his assistance, the State has obtained nine additional guilty pleas in this case. In the trial of the two remaining hold-outs, 6ix9ine testified extensively, going so far as to implicate pop stars—who haven’t been formally charged—in gang-related activity. According to the latest reports, the performer who literally had his stage name tattooed on his forehead will not be seeking federal witness protection, which is truly a loss for late night comedians.

As far as the internet is concerned, this whole mess has been little more than an excuse for colorful memes. On the ground level, however, snitching is serious, and it involves considerable risk. Snitching is a slang term that refers to a confession made to the detriment of other defendants and for the benefit of the State. It’s important to note that a confession is inadmissible if it’s procured through promises of immunity or leniency. In other words, the State can’t promise you the moon in order to convince you to sing. On the other hand, vague or indefinite statements about how it’s in your best interests to be forthcoming or how it’ll be better for everyone if you just tell the truth are perfectly acceptable. Statements like these are simply garden variety police interrogation tactics, and they’re designed to make it easier for the State to put people in jail.

Let’s be clear: Snitching does not mean confessing to a crime. Snitching means pointing the finger at others to save your own skin. It’s like tattling, but with an undercurrent of self-preservation. Indiana euphemistically refers to the exploitation of this desperate impulse as accomplice testimony, and even the case law agrees that it should be regarded with extreme skepticism: “Because human nature would tend to cause accomplices to ‘unload’ against their partners and desire to clear themselves as much as possible of blame for a crime, such testimony should be highly scrutinized by the jury or fact finder” (emphasis added).

The court here was simply offering an uncontroversial observation about human nature: A drowning man will clutch at a straw. Put another way, the drowning man isn’t especially reliable. About the only thing you can really count on him to do is to try and keep from drowning. Indiana courts have acknowledged this reality and therefore require the State to declare whatever favors or benefits a witness is set to earn for his testimony. The thinking here is that a greater potential punishment provides a greater incentive to lie. The defendant who’s facing, say, 47 years in prison has a lot more to lose than the defendant who’s looking at 90 days. A truly desperate man might be willing to say all kinds of things, and the penalty of perjury is unlikely to dissuade him.

This brings us back around to Tekashi 6ix9ine, the man with a history of questionable life choices. The testimony he offered in court was certainly headline-grabbing—but was it credible? There’s no rule that says a judge or jury is required to believe the testimony of any particular witness. In fact, in evaluating the reliability of 6ix9ine’s claims, it’s entirely appropriate for the jury to consider the possibility that his “cooperation” was offered only to avoid prison time. What would you be willing to say if you were facing 47 years in a correctional facility?

Everything’s contextual, so it’s entirely possible to imagine a scenario where snitching actually is a defendant’s best option. Even if that’s the case, though, the aspiring snitch is almost certain to get a better overall deal with an experienced criminal defense attorney in his corner. The Marc Lopez Law Firm represents people accused of crimes throughout central Indiana, and we’re always willing to go to trial and fight the good fight. Give us a call at 317-632-3642, or send us an email.