Undercover work & using informants (US)
There are many times that informants are utilized in order to find incriminating information. In turn, most people have referred to this whole process as being dirty business. It really is true because most of the informants are people in the underworld who choose to help law enforcers with investigative work. Often in most criminal cases, the informant is used in order to provide evidence that would not be usually obtained. During the U.S. v. Bernal-Obseo the court noted that “Criminals caught in our system understand they can mitigate their own problems with the law by becoming a witness against someone else” (Brown, 2007). This paper seeks to give a critical analysis of the civilian, confidential and criminal informants used during undercover work.
Confidential Informants and Undercover work
In the undercover world, the confidential informants are known as ‘rats’, ‘snakes’, ‘turncoats’ and ‘pigeons’, among other words. They tend to exaggerate and lie in order to suit their own purposes. According to the Ninth Circuit, the American judicial history has had many cases whereby, informants often pointed fingers of guilt to defendants as well as suspects. This then created a high risk to innocent people who were later on sent to prison. It cannot be denied that informants have a vital role to play during the investigation of different types of crime and, especially drug trafficking (Brown, 2007). It is because people who are involved in various illegal enterprises tend to be naturally obsessed with matters of secrecy. Therefore, the people who have the ability of obtaining inside information that will support search warrants and arrests are fellow hoodlums and felons. The information provided by them is usually quite accurate as evidence suggests. There is a high percentage of search warrants that are quite productive because of their tips. This is why the American Supreme Court summed everything by saying that an informer is part and parcel of the defensive arsenal of a case.
Confidential Informants will therefore refuse to offer assistance to officers for obvious reasons; unless they are assured that their identity will not be known. In fact, the Court of Appeal claims that most of the information it obtains concerning crime comes from various informants. The informants would not be willing to provide the information if their identity would not be concealed. This has made the law to give officers a privilege or right to refuse to provide information about the identity of any informants. The privilege protects the name of the informant as well as the portions of communication about and from the informant that would make their identity known (Neubauer & Fradella, 2013).
The privilege is thus absolute and an officer is never required to identify any informants. At times, the defendant can file a Motion in order to disclose the informant, in what is known as an MDI. In this case, if a court establishes that an Informant is a key witness for defense, it has to dismiss all the charges held against the defendant and the officer no longer has the privilege. The consequences are extremely severe because if the officer refuses to identify the material witness, the defendant will not have a fair trial. The testimony by the witness cannot be able to assist the defendant and the attorney knows this fact (Khalil, 2012).
Civilian Informants and Undercover Work
In a recent story in the Chicago Sun-Times, a lot of information was given about how the use of civilian informants often leads to their deaths. In this case, the civilian informant was meant to carry out some undercover work for the FBI in exchange for his freedom. Earlier on, the informant known as Timothy Frost, a jail guard had been found guilty of having a truckload of stolen DVD’s. In order to obtain his freedom he had to give Henderson an arms dealer, $15000 in order to buy illegal hand grenades and guns. However, everything did not go on as planned and Frost lost his life after being shot in the head. In a judgment by Michelle Simmons, Henderson was sentenced to 80 years in prison. The issue that arises here is that there are cavalier risks associated with the use of civilian informants. It means that law enforcement officers continue to disregard the safety of civilians who chose to take part in undercover work. For example, in Illinois, there are no laws that seek to protect the informants and this has raised the number of undercover deaths. Civilians tend to be put in situations whereby, in reality no sane agent or officer would agree to be in (Jansenn, 2013).
The case of Forest proves that civilians are untrained to participate in undercover work. They then go and participate in extremely dangerous forms of police work according to Lance Block, a lawyer based in Florida. The use of civilian informants in dangerous operations takes place on a daily basis, all over the United States. However, there are no existing checks and balances to protect informants who will be coerced so as to cooperate. According to the FBI, they have Justice Department booklet that has 26 pages, but it only has 2 sentences about the security of informants. The FBI claims that it is in their interests to ensure that the informants are safe. The agents make it their mission to ensure that the tough situations can be dealt with by the informants. Some of the informants are lucky to be alive but they suffer from trauma most of their lives. It is not a happy feeling to know that you are responsible for the death of other people. The use of civilian informants is not a valuable tool for fighting crime because of its many disadvantages. The FBI has gone to claim many times that it offers the best protection for informants as it does to its agents (Jansenn, 2013).
Criminal Informants and Undercover Work
It seems that the utilization of criminal informants is not visible to the public, but in fact it takes place almost everywhere in the American justice system. From the prisons to court houses, jails to street corners, this is going on. The deals tend to be off the record and are subjected to very little and few oversight and rules. The criminal informants are key investigative tools and their usage has lead to the reduction of some costs. Unfortunately, these informants continue with their criminal activities while providing officers with unreliable information. This has in turn created problems in the American justice system because of the problematic aspect associated with using criminal informants (Natapoff, 2010).
This practice of using guilt to obtain information is quite pervasive and it has turned out to be a flourishing business. An example is that of Ann Colomb and her sons, who were in the year 2006, wrongfully convicted of having a cocaine business in Louisiana. They were found guilty after jailhouse informants gave fabricated testimonies as part of a snitch ring. The ring was made up of prisoners who gave information to the prosecutors so as to get reduced sentences. Police who tend to rely on information provided by criminal informants can make innocent people suffer by paying a heavy price. Some of these criminal informants have created crimes, yet they are working for the government. An example is Albert Gonzalez, a secret service informant found guilty of running a theft ring involving credit card data. Gonzalez used his government connections in order to run the illegal activities and assist other hackers from being detected. The use of criminal informants needs to stop and public policy should be established to address this issue. Many lives, as well as millions of dollars are being wasted because of this issue. It should not be allowed to exist either in the shadows or off-record (Natapoff, 2010).
In conclusion, the use of informants in detective work has had many disadvantages and advantages. There are some people who believe in the use of informants can help catch criminals, but this is not always the case. A lot needs to be addressed to ensure that innocent civilians do not lose their lives as well as be wrongfully accused for crimes they did not commit. Informants should be credible people who can provide the needed evidence to get hold of criminals. Therefore, the criminal justice system still has a long way till it can have an effective policy concerning undercover work and informants.
Brown, Ethan. (2007). Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice. New York: Public Affairs.
Jansenn, Kim. (2013). FBI use of civilian informants raises questions after Timothy Forrest’s murder. Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved from HYPERLINK “http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/19155601-418/fbi-undercover-work-too-risky-for-civilians.html” http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/19155601-418/fbi-undercover-work-too-risky-for-civilians.html
Khalil, Adam. (2012). Knock, Knock, Who’s There?: Undercover Officers, Police Informants, and the “Consent Once Removed” Doctrine. Seton Hall Law Review, 4, 41, 1569-1597.
Natapoff, Alexandra. (2010). Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. New York: New York University Press.
Neubauer, David. & Fradella, Henry. (2013). America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. New York: Cengage Learning.