Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Stop Snitchin'
A street movement aimed at intimidating witnesses in criminal trials has come to South Florida. The message is "Stop Snitchin'." It's on T-shirts that have shown up in courtrooms up north. Could Florida courts be next? Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- It started with a DVD, and then the message moved to clothing -- "Stop Snitchin'" or face the consequences.
Child: "People that snitch they either get hurt, or they die."
And from children in Pennsylvania --
Teenager: "It's snitchin'. You're just not supposed to snitch."
To Massachusetts stores, the word has spread with what some would say are troubling results.
Snitch and expect consequences.
Criminal trials have been disrupted when family members have worn shirts like these into courtrooms.
Allan Shapiro: "That's exactly the point of it. It's designed to intimidate witnesses."
In communities across the country, police and prosecutors are having trouble building criminal cases because witnesses are afraid to testify.
In Baltimore it got so bad, police made a "Keep Talkin'" video to counter "Stop Snitchin'"
Actor: "Go ahead -- keep on talkin'."
And it may be only a matter of time until the shirts show up in South Florida courtrooms. Allen Shapiro is selling "Stop Snitchin’" T-shirts here.
Allan Shapiro: "I consulted with my attorney, and he told me that it's protected under the First Amendment, freedom of speech."
That may be the case when it comes to wearing the shirts on the streets, but local experts say that is not the case if you wear them into a courtroom.
Howard Finkelstein: "Intimidation of a witness is a crime and it's more than just being illegal, it's morally wrong."
The "Stop Snitchin'" movement started with drug cases.
Once caught, suspects often cut deals to reduce their penalties by telling on someone else.
Shapiro thinks the T-shirt threats are one way to fight back.
Allan Shapiro: "It's not an overt threat."
Carmel Cafiero: "It's an implied threat."
Allan Shapiro: "It's an implied threat, yes."
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein -- who is also the Seven News Legal Analyst -- understands why some think the system is unfair and want to wear the shirts as a protest.
But he says only "outside" of a courtroom.
Howard Finkelstein: "Because if we allow people to alter what goes on in the courtroom for their own political agendas, well then, in the end, there will be justice for nobody."
Prosecutors are also concerned about the "Stop Snitchin'" message.
Ron Ishoy: "This puts witnesses in danger -- witnesses who are doing the right thing and stepping up to testify in criminal cases. They must be able to do it freely, without intimidation."
But Shapiro insists people have a right to do anything they can to defend themselves.
Allan Shapiro: "I didn't create the system. All I did was find a way that it could be used to keep people from going to jail."
Carmel Cafiero: "And make some money."
Allan Shapiro: "And make some money."
And he's making money by marketing the shirts with an ad that reads: "Criminal Charges Dropped."
He says the shirt can control witnesses.
Carmel Cafiero: "And how is this a good thing?"
Allan Shapiro: "It's a good thing because there are a lot of people that just don't have the money to hire a good lawyer."
Shapiro says if you buy his shirts, he'll also give you the link to a web site that identifies informants and undercover police officers.
Howard Finkelstein: "No right-thinking person believes that an undercover police officer's life should be put in jeopardy or their family's. It is outrageous to do that."
Carmel Cafiero: "Shapiro is just getting started. He's selling from an oceanfront condo here in Fort Lauderdale, so it remains to be seen what -- if any -- impact "Stop Snitchin'" will have on South Florida's criminal justice system."
IF THERE'S SOMETHING YOU THINK CARMEL SHOULD INVESTIGATE, GIVE HER A CALL: