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How do courts determine if confidential informants are reliable?

On Behalf of | Sep 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Police officers and prosecutors are often eager to locate any evidence they can connecting an individual to criminal activity. Sometimes, evidence is readily available because a crime occurred in a public location or left clear financial, chemical or physical proof of someone’s involvement.

Other times, the state may have a very difficult time proving that a specific individual engaged in some form of illegal activity. One of the ways that police officers and prosecutors obtain what they require to bring charges against an individual involves working with confidential informants.

Confidential informants are individuals who will testify in court, often without publicly revealing their identities, to help implicate someone. Confidential informants could be those involved in the local drug scene or jailhouse informants who overhear something while in state custody. How do the courts evaluate whether a confidential informant is reliable or not?

They look at the informant themselves

Many factors influence how credible an informant will be in the eyes of the criminal courts. For example, how many criminal charges have they previously faced, and have they ever testified in criminal proceedings before? Someone who has a history of providing reliable information could be more credible than someone who has never helped prosecute another criminal.

Additionally, looking at a confidential informant’s history of telling the truth or lying will be an important step. Someone with a history of openly lying will be less credible than someone with a history of telling the truth.

They look at the information provided

There are many details about the testimony of a confidential informant that will determine how useful it is during prosecution. One of the considerations is how the informant acquired their knowledge. Do they share a cell with the defendant and converse with them about the crime? Did they participate in illegal activity, such as purchasing drugs from the defendant?

The basis for the claims of the confidential informant will be an important consideration. So will the degree of detail and specificity in the claims that they make. The more information a confidential informant has about specific circumstances, the more likely the courts are to take their claims seriously. Finally, whether or not there is other evidence corroborating their claims will be an important consideration.

For those facing prosecution, undermining the credibility of a confidential informant could potentially be a viable defense strategy. Understanding how the state will establish the usefulness of a confidential informant’s testimony may help someone prepare to defend against that testimony during a criminal trial.

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