While it is true that no two drug-crime prosecutions contain the same set of facts and circumstances, arrests involving the sale or distribution of a controlled substance often follow a predictable pattern. That pattern involves an informant providing information to a law enforcement agency, usually in exchange for charges against the informant being dismissed or reduced, or a reduction in a sentence if the informant is already in jail or prison serving a sentence. Understanding the role an informant plays in a drug crime prosecution is vital for a defendant. With that in mind, a Nebraska drug defense attorney explains the role of an informant in the arrest and prosecution of a defendant in a drug-related prosecution.
What Is an Informant?
If you have much experience with the criminal justice system, you likely already know what an informant is. To say they are not popular would be an understatement. An informant is defined as “someone who has knowledge of illicit activities who works with the police by providing that information to police in order to build cases against criminal defendants.” What is missing from that definition is the fact that informants provide that definition for their own personal gain. That fact alone should make the information supplied by an informant questionable at best.
Informants may also work with narcotics investigation teams in sting operations where they pose as a buyer to help take down a drug dealer – again, an informant only agrees to cooperate in a sting because the informant hopes to gain something from that cooperation. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) acknowledges how precarious information from an informant can be in a report, stating “failure in the management of cooperating individuals constitutes, perhaps, the most obvious single cause of serious integrity problems in DEA and other law enforcement agencies.” The inherent untrustworthiness of informants can also be shown by the following excerpt from the DEA agent’s manual::
Where a cooperating individual is to participate in an undercover purchase in which he may come in contact with either official funds, controlled drugs, or anything else of potential evidentiary value, he will be thoroughly searched both before and after the undercover encounter, and where possible kept under continuous observation in between. The reason for this is to preclude questions as to the validity or integrity of the evidence.
Should I Be Worried about an Informant in My Case?
If you are currently a defendant in a drug-related prosecution and an informant played a role in your arrest, your defense attorney will undoubtedly challenge the information provided by that informant and/or the role the informant played in your arrest. Courts have long wrestled with how to handle informants, and the role they play in an investigation. When a court is faced with evaluating the credibility of an informant’s information, either in support of a search warrant or as part of an undercover “sting” operation, the following factors are traditionally considered:
- Veracity – does the CI have a reputation for telling the truth? Law enforcement and prosecutors typically have evidence that their CI has lied or been forthright with them and others.
- Basis of knowledge – some basis for the alleged knowledge the informant has must be provided. For example, does the informant personally know the defendant? Were they cell-mates?
- Reliability – has the informant provided reliable information in the past or is this the first time the informant has been used by the police?
- Corroboration – if the CI’s reports are consistent with other reports by third parties, it will increase a CI’s credibility in court.
- Specificity — the more specific and detailed, the more likely a court is to accept a CI’s information.
If an informant was used in your case, consult with your criminal defense attorney about challenging that informant’s role in your case.
Contact a Nebraska Drug Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a drug-related criminal offense in Nebraska, consult with an experienced Nebraska drug defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.