The Whitey Bulger Case: Snitching and its Justifications
Nick Jarcho, J.D. Candidate
The arrest on June 22, 2011 of fugitive alleged Boston Crime Boss James “Whitey” Bulger after 16 years on the run was an empty triumph for law enforcement. Bulger, 81, had successfully lived out much of his golden years in comfort (more than $800,000 in cash was found in the Santa Monica home he shared with his longtime companion) and security (the same search turned up more than 20 loaded guns, as well as other weapons). Moreover, during the time that Bulger remained free, the FBI saw a former agent convicted of second-degree murder after a jury found he leaked information to Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, both of whom were his informants, resulting in the death of another associate, John Callahan. The revelations damaged the credibility of the FBI, leading to Congressional hearings and a major revision to the Bureau’s informant-handling standards.
The Bulger case demonstrates the perils of a ubiquitous criminal justice practice: informing, or “snitching.” Snitching, the practice of allowing leniency to some criminals in exchange for information on other criminals, is very common, but its effects on law enforcement are rarely considered. Snitching has a strong place in American cultural representations of crime. It is a staple of every classic or popular crime movie or television show, from “The Godfather” to “The Departed” (elements of which bear a striking resemblance to the Bulger case)—for good reason.