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The problem with police informants

A Penn State student recently learned the hard way how police rely on informants. The student was arrested and charged with several different drug violations after allegedly selling cocaine several times to a police informant.

Once police found their informant, they gave that person money, which he or she then used to purchase cocaine four separate times while under police surveillance. News reports do not clarify how police discovered their informant. Could it be that this person was arrested for possession of cocaine and quickly told police who they purchased it from to cut a favorable deal?

How law enforcement relies on informants

When you think about informants, you likely think about someone “wearing a wire” that communicates with a nearby unmarked van. This is typically a part of stories involving the arrests of suspected mafia members. Law enforcement also frequently uses informants in terrorism investigations.

But police and (FBI, DEA and ATF agents at the federal level) also use informants for lower-level offenses as well. And police often rely on the ability to use an informant’s information to shape public perception and portray and open-and-shut case.

But can you trust them?

The problem with many police informants is that they are usually informing because they are trying to get themselves out of legal entanglements. There are too many instances of informants lying out there to safely say that you can trust them all. Police and prosecutors, however, continue to rely on them anyway. In the case cited above, it may send a Penn State student to prison for years, effectively derailing his future.

The use of informants makes the use of effective criminal defense representation all the more important. If you find yourself in a situation similar to the one above, you should work with an attorney who has a proven record of being able to effectively cross-examine or poke holes in informants’ accounts to cast doubt on them.

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