Who are confidential police informants and what are their tasks in the State of California? These individuals, some who go undercover, often are given the responsibility of producing information concerning possible criminal activity and the suspected individuals involved in the illegal activity. Informants or informers commonly work for a division of the law enforcement and also are commonly known as narcs or snitches. In California, a confidential police informant may simply be a private citizen who witnesses a crime, by pure chance.

Confidential police informants also may be police officials who work as agents, concealing their identity to obtain valuable information for their departments. Both types of confidential police informants may provide crucial information regarding an ongoing case in California or reveal unknown criminal activity taking place. However, the information provided through private citizens is often considered the most reliable. This is because the police officer informants may be bias to their own motives and the work they have done on the case. Typically, in California, informants – be it citizens informants or police officer informants – produce information used to obtain search warrants and evidence presented during various different criminal proceedings, which include trials.

Examining confidential police informant’s information

A judge will consider the credibility of the informant when considering the information being presented. He or she will check to see if the information presented by the confidential police informant proves to be reliable. This involves the informant turning over background information concerning the conclusion he or she made regarding the alleged criminal activity. In addition, the judge will measure the reliability of the information on hand based on his or her own evaluation on the credibility of the informant. It is important to note, the informant provides his or her information under oath.

A judge may allow an informant’s identity to remain anonymous, which is a protected right of an informant under the law of California. This is known as anonymity. If the informant wishes to remain anonymous it is allowable up to a certain point under the California Evidence Code. However, a judge may order disclosure of an informant’s identity to best conduct the investigation. It is solely up to the judge to determine if the identity of the informant must be revealed by the prosecution. This is known as providing disclosure. The judge can’t require disclosure without establishing a few facts, though.

These facts include:

  1. The informant must serve as an important witness in the case to prove the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and
  2. There is reason to believe that nondisclosure of the informant’s identity would actually deprive the defendant of his or her right to have a fair trial.

In addition, after further investigation, a judge may decide not to end up using the informant’s evidence at all in court.

More on an informant’s confidentiality

Often, a criminal defense attorney seeks to obtain the identity of the informant. It commonly is the criminal defense attorney who convinces the judge that it is important to know the informant’s identity. The prosecution typically wants to keep the identity confidential and more times than not the prosecution does not have to disclose the identity of the informant. It often is beneficial to a defendant to have his or her criminal defense attorney make a motion to reveal the identity of the confidential police informant. There usually are two opportunities to find out the identity of a confidential informant and that is before and during trial. If a defendant doesn’t ask for disclosure of the identity at one of these two times, then the issue is waived (meaning that the defendant can’t find out the identity later). It can be very difficult to finally learn the identity of the confidential police informant, but learning it can be extremely crucial to a defendant so an adequate defense can be drawn up. If involved in a case also involving information from a confidential police informant, it can be very beneficial to try and find out just who the confidential informant is and if he or she indeed is a reliable source of information.

Better understanding who confidential police informants are

Many are surprised to have been charged with a crime based on information provided by a confidential police informant. Often, a confidential police informant is a family member or close friend of the defendant. Federal law enforcement officers rely greatly on the information provided by informants in their investigations, specifically when it involves suspected drug crimes. It is required by law that informants provide truthful information. It is the job of a defendant’s criminal defense attorney to do his or her own examination into whether or not the information is truthful, however. Sometimes, the information provided by a confidential police informant is, in fact, unreliable. Unreliable information, whether provided intentionally or not, can lead to an innocent person being prosecuted for a crime.

It is important to note, police officer informants must be registered with the federal agency they are giving information to, though. Because of the nature of their work, police officer informants may sometimes be allowed to commit some crimes in order to get information that aids the criminal investigation. However, this could lead to entrapment, which a skilled self defense attorney would recognize. It is important to consult with a California criminal defense attorney when being accused of a crime as a result of information provided by a confidential police informant.

The case may be complicated but an aggressive attorney can defend his or her client and can work to reveal the identity of the informant and question the accuracy of the information used to allow for the criminal charge or charges to result.

Legal References:

  1. People v. Aguilar (1966)
  2. California Evidence Codes 1041 and 1042