The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conducted a three year investigation into the statewide use of confidential informants in criminal cases. According to the Associated Press, what they found was somewhat disturbing.
Confidential informants are the citizens who get into trouble and quickly get back out of trouble by cooperating with police, providing information about other people who may be involved in criminal activity. Typically, CIs are used to catch the “big guys”, and they give cops an inside look into happenings they might not have access too without someone “on the inside”.
But, the three year investigation from the ACLU showed that just how these CIs were used was largely unregulated and the potential cause of many problems within criminal cases. Over half of the officers they interviewed were unclear on the policies regarding the uses of confidential informants, a problem considering just how often they are used.
CIs are typically used in drug cases and have been the cause of many innocent people being charged and even killed. Whether it is the pressure put on these informants to divulge critical information or their desire to stay out of trouble, they have been known to provide false information. Without checks in place and strict procedures being followed, the risks to innocent people are too great.
According to the ACLU, their study found “some departments throughout New Jersey failed to put agreements in writing, circumvented search warrant requirements, used juveniles improperly, and insufficiently checked the reliability of information given by confidential informants.” Some even reported there was no CI policy in place, seemingly ignorant to the mandatory protocols from the state Attorney General.
As a result of their findings, the ACLU has put pressure on local departments to clean up their handling of informants and get all of their officers on the same page. Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi has already made changes, requiring all officers who work with CIs to be certified by his office and mandating all officers go through annual training on the subject.
The use of confidential informants is not new. But there has been a growing reliance with the fighting of the unwinnable Drug War. These informants are often in no place to make accusations, though their words are taken as the truth. Being fingered as a suspect because of the statement of a CI really doesn’t mean you are guilty at all.
When other people accuse you of a crime you are not guilty of, it can seem impossible to get a fair shake. But with a criminal defense attorney on your side, you have an advocate in the courts, someone who wants to help you clear your name.
If you’ve been charged with a drug offense in New Jersey, contact me today to discuss your case.