Skip to comments.In Praise Of The Rat
Posted on 11/29/2012 4:30:19 AM PST by AtlasStalled
The defense strategy in mob trials is so predictable: attack the government witness as an unlikeble rat, and claim the testimony is motivated by a deal to avoid prison for his own crimes.
This strategy was at play in the ongoing trial targeting the Philadelphia Mafia when mobster-turned-informant Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello was cross-examined as reported by Dave Schratwieser for WTXF.
And last week the defense lawyer for reputed Genovese capo Anthony "Rom" Romanello also pulled this well-worn page from the playbook to cross-examine flipped Bonanno boss Joseph "Big Joey" Massino as reported by the New York Post: "You became a rat!"
The problem with this tired strategy is that it rarely works, and juries routinely convict mobsters based on testimony from rats.
Juries are sophisticated enough to understand that a rat carries baggage, and they aren't looking for boy scouts and choir boys. When the government tries the devil, the witnesses often come from hell. Indeed, a flipped witness is credible precisely because he's often a slimeball. Who else would be involved with the Mafia to know where the proverbial bodies are buried? The badder the rat, the more he knows. A witness is more credible on the stand based on the more "street cred" he has, and defense lawyers paradoxically are propping up the rat by empasizing how bad he is.
Although rats often are motivated by self-interest in their decisions to flip, the move also comes at great personal risk to themselves. After all, the criminal underworld doesn't look kindly on those who betray it. Moreover, whatever deal a rat obtains from prosecutors is conditioned upon his truthful testimony, and he risks losing the deal for any perjurious statements. Finally, it's the rare case which is predicated solely on rat testimony, and often there is other corroborating evidence.
Defense lawyers would be well-advised to get some new material in representing their mob clients: attacking the rats has become meaningless, and underestimates how much the public appreciates their service even if we don't like them.
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