On television, confidential informants (CIs) help to put the bad guys behind bars, right? Except that, even Hollywood sometimes depicts these individuals as self-serving criminals who are willing to say and do whatever it takes to secure a better deal for themselves and their own legal hassles. And since the use of these informants is basically unregulated by courts, law enforcement has free reign as they wheel and deal in order to “prove” their cases and nab their suspects.
The incentive to lie is indisputable in most cases because CIs generally work under a give-and-take agreement: information is exchanged for benefits—like perhaps some assistance with their own legal perils. If an informant can significantly reduce their own time behind bars by giving investigators the juice they are looking for, why not? If law enforcement does not validate information by corroborating with another trustworthy source who is not getting a benefit for the testimony, why wouldn’t an informant who could use a little good luck, or one who battles addictions or other mental health issues, make a deal to improve their circumstances even if they have to embellish a little bit?
It’s not only informants who may be tempted to fabricate a story. Since there are such limited rules related to CIs in many departments, any officer could manufacture an informant’s existence and testimony to justify a search or some other police action. Federal and state investigations have proven this exact scenario more than once.
Fake Facts From Jailhouse Snitches
It may seem hard to believe, but one in five convictions that have been later overturned due to DNA evidence relied in part on the words of a confidential jailhouse informant. Wrongful convictions often occur in the United States, with serious repercussions. 21% of death row exonerations involved convictions reliant on informant testimony. And that makes sense because these informants clearly have plenty of motivation to cooperate with a police investigation, even if it means making up confessions they have supposedly overheard in exchange for leniency in their own legal matters. Frequently defense attorneys do not even know what benefits were provided to confidential informants, limiting their ability to verify credibility.
Wrongful Incarceration is Expensive
Individuals who are wrongfully imprisoned lose on all fronts: time lost, reputations demolished, opportunities evaporated, and relationships destroyed; the suffering is truly unimaginable. Even so, people across the country experience it every day. The human cost is incalculable, but not so the dollar cost. Studies show that roughly $300 million in civil cases and statutory compensation is depleted from government coffers due to mistaken convictions every year.
The Criminal Defense You Need
If you have been charged with a crime, the dedicated defense attorneys at The Law Offices of David M. Boertje will fight for you on all fronts, including by scrutinizing any information provided to prosecutors by confidential informants. Your defense is the priority for the aggressive and creative team. Schedule a confidential consultation today in our San Diego office.