40 A.B.A. J. 603 (1954)
Elevating the Role of the Informer: The Value of Secret Information

handle is hein.journals/abaj40 and id is 603 raw text is: Elevating the Role of the Informer:
The Value of Secret Information
by M. William Krasilovsky - of the New York Bar (New York City)

* There is a general dislike of informers in our society. From the tattle-tale in
grammar school to the stool pigeon graduate of Alcatraz and Sing Sing, the
informer is disliked and distrusted. Mr. Krasilovsky argues that this is unfortunate
and that informers play a vital role in our efforts to combat crime and preserve our
national security.

1 Public disdain for the role of in-
former has long been predominant.
Strongly rooted in our customs, im-
bued from childhood, is the social
rejection of the snitcher. I'll punish
John for taking the candy, but I'll
punish you doubly for telling on
him is familiar to us all. The adult
informer of criminal or disloyal be-
havior usually is equally rejected,
but the childhood world, where one
must choose his side as either with
the cops or the robbers, points up
the adult passivity in the war on
crime. The mass of Americans sit
passively in a neutral group and
leave crime detection to the pro-
fessionals. We reserve our plaudits
for the professional who uncovers
crime, be he policeman or district
attorney, but let not the volunteer
informer seek acclaim, for he is no
more than a meddler.
The problem of public acceptance
of the informer has been illustrated
by two recent events standing in
striking juxtaposition. The United
States Senate voted to pay a reward
of over $16,000 to an informer whose
tip resulted in the conviction of a

major gold smuggler, and in the
same week, a story of prison life was
published by one whose refusal to be
an  informer under congressional
subpoena resulted in her sentence
to prison for contempt. The financial
reward to the informer and the pun-
ishment of the recalcitrant witness
is playing an ever-increasing role in
American life warranting the grow-
ing attention.
Justice Douglas has sounded a
warning against a growing under-
ground of informers operating in
secrecy and with anonymity, and
providing hazard not only to the ac-
cused individual but to all the coun-
try. His criticism, aimed more at the
use of low quality information than
at those who supply it, reads as fol-
.. the cloak of anonymity is thrown
over a growing underground of in-
formers. As that secrecy mounts, the
reliability of the information obtained
must necessarily decline. One who is
not put to the test of an oath; who
need not face his victim with the
charge, one who need not suffer the
torment of cross examination, can be-
come quick and restless with his ac-

cusations. The consequences are not
only disastrous to the individual; they
reflect upon the tribunal which ad-
ministers the system.1
A contrary view of the value of
secret sources of information, partic-
ularly as regards the application of
such informer assistance to the New
York Parole Board, was expressed in
a recent opinion. Justice Isadore
Bookstein, of the New York Supreme
Court, ruling on an application to
order the Parole Board to divulge the
names of intercedents on behalf of a
convict seeking parole, stated:
It should be obvious to all that the
impartial and intelligent discharge
of their duties by the Board of Parole
-requires it to obtain information
which in many instances it can only
obtain upon the assurances that such
information is confidential. The en-
tire penal and parole system would
surely be jeopardized by violating
such a well established principle.2
The role of informer is assumed
for greatly variant purposes ranging
from a sense of civic responsibility to
a calculated expectation of reward.
Arnold Schuster, who pointed out
Willy Sutton, is an example of the
altruistic informer, while Anna Sage,
who informed the F.B.I. of Dillin-
ger's whereabouts, is reported to have
1. Address to the American Law Institute, May
20. 1953.
2. The New York Times, October 30, 1953,
page 1.

July, 1954  Vol. 40 603

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing nearly 3,000 academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline with pricing starting as low as $29.95

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?