Popular Posts

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Discovery of Confidential Informants

Law enforcement officers often persuade individuals to become "confidential informants" or "cooperating individuals" to develop cases against suspects higher up the food chain. Some of these suspects are extremely dangerous individuals, like drug dealers and others involved in organized crime, for example, James Whitey Bulger, who killed, maimed, sold drugs and committed other violent crimes over thirty years in Boston.

The courts have recognized the value of CI's to law enforcement. They also recognize the right of an accused to due process, which includes the right to confrontation of accusers, the right to develop and present a full defense, and so on. Thus, the courts attempt to balance the competing interests.

The Supreme Court has held that the Government has a privilege to withhold from disclosure the identity of persons who furnish information of violation of laws to officers charged with enforcement of that law. Roviaro v. U.S., 353 U.S. 53 (1957). The privilege is not absolute, but the defendant bears a heavy burden to obtain the CI’s identity. The Government’s privilege need only give way when disclosure of the CI’s identity would be “vital to a fair trial.”

If the CI was not a participant in the crime, or if there are other witnesses to the crime, the courts will probably not order disclosure. In the Bulger case, the court refused to order identification of the CI.

Local law enforcement agencies, including in Kerr County, make deals all the time with people they catch with drugs. A suspect will sign a 'cooperating individual' contract, that promises a lighter sentence or maybe even no prosecution at all if the CI helps the police arrest and convict five other suspects.

The officers will then have the CI call a dealer (calls are recorded) and set up a buy. The CI is wired, and the officers will observe from a concealed position, and usually film the buy. Often, the buy is set up near a school or playground, so L/E can nail the suspect on a more serious offense, with longer minimum sentences. And the courts have held this is not entrapment.


  1. There is a news story in the KDT today about a woman who has been arrested 18 times with multiple previous felony drug arrests. She was on felony bond at the time she made multiple meth sales to an undercover police and when raided was fund to be in possession of 28 grams of Meth, packaged to sell. She finally went to court, 18 months later, and received probation. There are several comments in the KDT that ask how this is possible. Is this consistent with the treatment of a CI, in your opinion?

  2. "Often, the buy is set up near a school or playground". I never imagined the police would arrange to have drug deals in these areas. On the surface this seems to make a mockery of our drug free zone laws, and at a minimum, shows bad judgement on the part of law enforcement. What will happen during a drug deal is anybody's guess. One may ask if the confidentiality associated with CI's is being abused. What agency provides oversight of these arrangements?

  3. Since we have established the fact that local police set up drug deals near schools or playgrounds, let me ask the following questions:

    1) Do CI's sell dope to small time users and then arrange to have them arrested with same?

    2) Do CI's work the local recovery groups from the inside, looking for kids right out of treatment for the purpose of "helping" them relapse in order to score credit for an arrest?

    The arrest and prosecution records available on the internet suggest the answer to both of these questions is "yes".

    The community has given great latitude and trust to LE in the use of CI's, but the evil twins of money and power could be in play here. Fifteen small busts could yield fifteen convictions, fifteen monthly probation fee’s, UA’s, mandatory recovery classes….etc, all paid for by the convicted party. One large dealer bust sends one person to TDC, and bypasses a large portion of the local system, but this takes the action off the streets. What is in the best interest of the Community and what is in the best interest of LE may be at odds in the use of CI’s. It is deeply troubling that the woman referenced in the post above may be a CI.