What is a Confidential Informant?
Whether you have watched a crime-based docuseries or read news related to a drug bust, you have likely heard the term “confidential informant.” While this term is used quite frequently in the legal field, people often have misconceptions about confidential informants. Few people really understand what information they are entitled to know about a confidential informant or when their identity may be disclosed. So, we wanted to lay out specific details about confidential informants, especially as they relate to drug conspiracy cases.
A confidential informant is somebody that the police department uses in a case while keeping that person’s identity a secret throughout the police report. An example would be if you are arrested and charged with a drug offense and the police explain, “We found the person that we arrested through information obtained from a confidential informant.”
Can I Find Out who the Confidential Informant is?
If you are arrested due to information provided by a confidential informant, the first thing you are probably going ask your lawyer is, “Who’s this confidential informant? How is it that they could keep their name secret? I want to know who they are.” In some instances, this person has had multiple contacts with the defendant prior to them being arrested. So, it’s not just one day or one tip. Regarding your case, you’re going to want to know what this person said to the police. In layman terms, the law basically says if the confidential informant is somebody who is “a finger pointer,” you don’t get to find out who they are. If they’re a little bit more involved than simply pointing the finger, you may be entitled to know their identity.
The Role the Information Provided by the Confidential Informant Plays in their Identity being Shared
Depending on the type of case, a confidential informant can share several details to law enforcement. In a drug case or a weapons case, a confidential informant may be somebody who has purchased drugs from a defendant on a prior occasion. The confidential informant then goes to the police and states that they have purchased drugs from the defendant, providing them the exact location of the sale.
If the police take the information shared with them and see a person that matches the description given and is doing the kinds of things that the confidential informant described, then the police have an independent reason to arrest that person. If they observe criminal actions and the confidential informant merely just pointed them in the direction of the defendant, you are not likely to find out the identity of that person.
However, it’s a little bit different if the confidential informant says “Hey, I’ve bought drugs from this person in the past and I’ll go and buy drugs from them now so you can arrest them.” If the confidential informant goes into the house and engages in a transaction while the police remain outside, then law enforcement may be forced to share the confidential informant’s identity. This scenario is different than the first one because the police didn’t witness a crime, but instead are making the arrest solely on the word of the confidential informant. In this scenario, the district attorney (DA) and the police would have to disclose the name of the confidential informant.
Why do Confidential Informants Provide Police with Information?
Confidential informants, sometimes referred to as CI by the police, are often paid by the police for the information that they give to them. Some of these people may be facing charges of their own. For example, they may have been arrested by the cops for engaging in criminal behavior and they turn to the police, offering to give them information and cooperate in exchange for payment or staying out of trouble. It’s no secret that they get paid in certain instances for the information they provide.
If they are someone that is actively involved as a material witness, they’re going to have their identities turned over and your lawyer will bring a motion to disclose the identity of the confidential informant. If the judge agrees with your lawyer and states the police or the district attorney must divulge or reveal the name of that confidential informant, there’s a very good chance that the district attorney may dismiss the case altogether. This happens in cases where the police department does not want to reveal this person’s identity in fear of jeopardizing their safety, as well as not wanting to jeopardize future operations with the confidential informant.
How Criminal Defense Attorneys can Utilize the Confidential Informant’s Identity in Your Defense
As an attorney, it can sometimes be beneficial to pursue the identity of the confidential informant through the legal process. If there’s a case pending against you that involves the use of confidential informant, it may be worthwhile for your defense attorney to bring a motion to disclose that person’s name because it may result in the dismissal of the case. However, if it’s a case where the informant is not a material witness, they’re just the “finger pointer,” the judge may not order that their identity be disclosed.
In criminal cases, you have an absolute right to know things about the people who are witnesses against you. This tactic can be used by defense attorneys in cases where the confidential informant has a material role in the case against you.
The Judge will Decide if Their Identity Should be Disclosed
When you file this motion, the judge will meet with the police officer and ask them certain questions about the informant such as, “What involvement do they have? How much are they getting paid?” and so on. The judge will ultimately decide whether it is pertinent to reveal the confidential informant’s identity. In some cases, not always but most cases, the police department and the district attorney’s office will more than likely dismiss the case rather than disclose the identity of an informant. This is a result of wanting to keep working with this person (CI). Also, if they have bigger cases that the informant has brought them information about, they may be more concerned about how this could impact that case
Contact The Nieves Law Firm for Your Bay Area Defense
If you are facing criminal charges in the Bay Area related to the use of a confidential informant, we would be happy to talk to you about your defense options. Contact our team today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we could help you fight your charges.