Police officers, federal investigators and prosecutors rely on many different sources of evidence to build a successful criminal case. The strongest cases have a variety of evidence tying someone to criminal activity and clarifying that they intended to break the law or cause harm to others.
Sometimes, prosecutors and police officers need to look for as much supplementary evidence as they can find, including the testimony of confidential informants. Confidential informants are often individuals who have had their own criminal issues and who cooperate with prosecutors or police departments for leniency. The risk of abuses of this system is significant.
How do the courts determine if they can rely on the statements from a confidential informant?
The courts evaluate informants on an individual basis
Each situation involving testimony from a confidential informant will require the careful consideration of the prosecutor attempting to present the informant’s perspective and the judge evaluating the case.
The first consideration is whether or not the informant is truthful or has a reputation for telling the truth. The personal record of the confidential informant, including their own criminal case and their involvement in previous prosecutions, will influence if the courts can view them as truthful.
Additionally, there must be a solid basis for their information. Since a confidential informant typically won’t be physically present in court, it is crucial that the basis of their information is reasonable. Ideally, there will be other information that helps to corroborate the claims made by the confidential informant.
The more evidence that supports the details of their claim, the more likely the courts are to take them seriously. Additionally, more specific claims tend to gain traction in criminal proceedings better than vague statements or claims based primarily on hearsay.
How confidential informant rules affect defendants
Sometimes, a defendant may be able to enter into a plea bargain that prevents a criminal record or lengthy incarceration because they agree to serve as a confidential informant. Other times, the state may have a thin, largely circumstantial case against the defendant without the testimony of the confidential informant.
Someone fighting criminal charges could use the often-questionable practices related to such informants as part of their defense strategy. Only those who understand how the state handles confidential informants and other potentially questionable sources of evidence will be fully empowered to handle their own criminal matters effectively.
Getting legal support for a criminal defense issue that may involve a confidential informant in some manner can benefit those who may be facing criminal charges.