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Issues in Informant Cases

Some criminal cases are based either directly or indirectly on the use by law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys of informants.  When we refer to informants, we are generally not referring to innocent citizens who call in and report suspicious activity; we are referring to people who are themselves engaged in criminal behavior and are now giving information to the State for some reason.  That kind of information should be viewed with some level of suspicion but often is not.  

Some informants are telling what they know because they have been caught and they think that informing will eliminate or reduce the consequences for them.  Some are angry at the other person and want to retaliate against them.  Some just want to get rid of their competition.  A Sheriff in Franklin County, Kentucky, puts out a flier/ad on Facebook inviting drug dealers to tattle on their competition.  He reports some success with that method.   A few have seen the light and want to turn away from their criminal pasts.  The reality is that most are doing it for selfish reasons and are seeking to show others in a bad light and themselves in a positive light.  They want something out of the deal.  

Many law enforcement agencies immediately follow a drug arrest by asking the arrested person about where they got the drugs and who else in the community is involved in drug distribution and use.  They may use that information to launch a sophisticated surveillance operation or to simply do a "knock and talk," where they just knock on the person's front door and try to elicit information, obtain consent to search or see evidence of criminal activity from the front door.  They may look for the person out on the road and "observe" a traffic violation and attempt to develop probable cause for a search.  

Many times, the information information will be used to develop a criminal charge that does not rely upon the use of the informant in court.  In larger cases, informants may be used to provide conspiracies to manufacture or distribute narcotics or marijuana or other contraband.  In conspiracy cases, uncorroborated informant testimony be used to seek convictions even where there is no actual contraband seized by law enforcement.  The current Attorney General made a practice of cutting informants' sentences in half if they gave information or testimony that led to the prosecution and conviction of someone else.  These types of prosecutions can often end with the least culpable actors receiving the worst sentences because they have no one to roll on.  

In the federal system and sometimes the state system, informants can also be rewarded by informant cash payments or reward funds.  

In short, there can be significant motivations to help the government make a case against other people.  

In defending criminal cases, it is often important to understand how informants played into the case.  That understanding helps identify potential issues with the government's handling of the case.  Sean Black has dealt with many cases involving the use of informants.  We are happy to consult with you about your serious criminal offenses in northeast Georgia.


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