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Snitching

Date: 11-21-09
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Alison McDermott, Alexandra Natapoff

Ian Punnett was joined by nationally-recognized expert on snitching, Alexandra Natapoff, for a discussion on the perils of using informants in our criminal justice system. She clarified that snitches are not the same as whistle blowers or even people reporting a crime, but are people who have committed a crime and using information to "get out from under their own criminal liability." Additionally, unlike those who take a plea bargain to escape jail time, deals with informants are never revealed to the public and the snitch is never charged with a crime. This scenario creates a myriad of problems, she explained, as the informants are not only allowed to get away with crimes they have already committed but also future crimes they may commit since they are seen as valuable to police investigators.

One particularly troubling aspect of this practice, she said, is that often informants use the system to their advantage at the expense of innocent people. She shared a number of instances where incorrect tips provided to police by informants results in terrible consequences. One such story involved an informant claiming to know of a home where drugs were being sold. When police burst into the home, they shot and killed a 92-year-old woman, only to later realize that they'd been misled. In an attempt to cover-up their mistake, they actually offered to pay a second informant if he would claim to have bought drugs at the house. Fortunately, this informant refused to cooperate and the tragic story became public knowledge. If not for that, Natapoff said, "nobody would ever learn what actually happened."

On how pervasive the power of snitches can be, Natapoff cited a Northwestern University study of exonerated death row inmates which found that 45% of them were convicted via the testimony of informants. Making matters even more troublesome, she also noted that a study of jurors determined that they will believe the testimony of an informant even after being told that they are being paid for their testimony. Strangely, these jurors stated that they thought the informants were unreliable and had an incentive to lie, but still believed their testimony. Thankfully, Natapoff said, awareness of the problems with the informant system has begun to grow and states are beginning to regulate the practice, such as Rachel's Law in Florida. "I think that the law will look very different in a decade," she said, as this scrutiny of the system grows.

Remote Curing Burns

During the first hour, Alison McDermott talked about the Fireburn Team, a group which claims to remotely cure injury from burns. She alleged that the organization can heal a person's burns as long as they find out about the victim and the injury within an hour of it happening. McDermott said that the group uses an ancient method of remote healing to bypass the brain's reaction to the burn. McDermott explained that they are appealing to mothers, since they are "very likely to be the first to know about their burned child within minutes," thus making them ideal candidates for the Fireburn Team.

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Missing for over a century, two fingers and a tooth extracted from the body of Galileo Galilei have been rediscovered. The relics were part of a larger haul of "souvenirs" taken by fans of the legendary scientist when his body was moved in 1737. The recently discovered digits and dentile were passed down by one family for generations until being lost in 1905. More on the story here, including a look at one of the other pilfered fingers on display at a museum in Firenze, Italy.

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Check out Ian's latest musings and insights at his blog site.

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Bumper music from Saturday November 21, 2009

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