So here’s the thing. You live in a moderate crime neighborhood, not the projects, but not affluent suburbia either. There is a knock at your door and you open it to discover a police officer. She is conducting a door to door in connection to a drug related shooting that took place earlier. As luck would have it on your return from shopping you did happen to see a man running out of a house down the block, you saw that he had a gun, and you saw the car he drove off in. Not only that, but you have seen him before and are aware that he is a local drug dealer. You are asked to give a statement and to testify against the individual in court. Being a civic minded individual you agree.
The defendant’s lawyer, having reviewed the case, including your statement that details exactly who you are, where you live and what you said, suggests to his client that he cut a deal. The victim he shot did not die, and the defendant has information that can lead to the prosecution of much bigger fish. A deal is cut and the defendant walks.
There is another knock at your door, this time it is not a police officer but the recently released drug dealer. Another shooting occurs, this time the victim does not survive.
A civil society can only be policed if the police have not only the consent of the people but also their cooperation. In return for this cooperation the police, on behalf of the state, protect the populace. The statement that there are large segments of the United States where this arrangement has broken down can only be disputed by arguing how large is large.
Given the current resource constraints facing both the police and prosecutors it is impractical to expect that those that break the law face the full consequences of their actions, irrespective of what information they are able to provide to law enforcement. An unintended consequence of these deals is the undermining of the compact between the police and the populace thus depleting the most important resource available to the police, the cooperation of the communities they police.
The eradication of these deals should be the long term goal of legislators. In the short term, like now, the nature of these deals needs to change. It is not right that those that commit crime benefit from cooperation with the authorities at the expense of the wider community. The reduction in sentence should not go away, but should be suspended. In the event that the defendant is charged with another offence, then the suspended time has to be served. In the event that the defendant is found innocent he/she is released and the time served is removed from the suspended sentence. If the defendant is found guilty then any new prison sentence would run consecutively rather than concurrently with the previous sentence. The suspended sentence does not go away until it is served.
If, and to me it is a very big if, if the Criminal Justice system is to be based on the fear of retribution then at the very least let that fear be experienced by those that commit crime, not by those that testify against them.