When law enforcement relies on an unreliable informant, P.2

We’ve been looking in recent posts at the use of confidential informants in criminal investigation and prosecution. As we noted last time, it is important for criminal defendants to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to carefully scrutinize the integrity of police work in general, but particularly with respect to the use of confidential informants.

When the issue comes up in trial, whether as a question of the basis for law enforcement’s reliance on a informant or as using a confidential informant for testimony in trial, courts will look at a variety of factors to determine whether law enforcement’s reliance on a confidential informant is justified. The informant’s reputation for truthfulness and history of providing accurate information are two important factors we’ve already mentioned. In addition to these factors, courts will also consider things like: the informant’s basis for knowledge; the degree of specificity and detail provided by the informant; and whether the information provided by the informant was corroborated by observations of law enforcement. 

The factors we have listed are not the only ones courts may take into account when determining the reliability of an informant. For a criminal defendant, the primary concern with all of this is to ensure that the government is not able to benefit from the testimony of an unreliable informant. In some cases, it may be possible to petition for disclosure of the identity of a confidential informant. In many cases, it is not.

In any case, for those who are charged with criminal offenses as a result of the use of a tipster or confidential informant, it is particularly important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to address these issues and ensure the government is held to its full burden of proof.