The use of confidential informants in law enforcement can sometimes be a grey area that can be exploited by both the informant and the law enforcement agents involved. Becoming a confidential informant can be a way to avoid going to prison, although it may also mean accepting the informant role for a quite some time. Becoming an informant can also be dangerous when it exposes the informant to threats of bodily harm or threats from those he is reporting on to the authorities. While there are obvious advantages in becoming a confidential informant in order to get criminal charges against you reduced or dismissed, the downside should be well thought out when deciding whether or not to inform.
Federal Guidelines on Confidential Informants
There are often guidelines on how an informant is to be paid or handled, and these can vary depending on the law enforcement agency. However, the payment cannot be an incentive for the informant to provide false information. For example, the information an informant provides can be subject to challenge if he is paid contingent on prosecutions or convictions of the people on whom he informs. On the federal level, the use of confidential informants is a recognized law enforcement technique which different federal agencies take advantage of, using approximately 16,000 informants in 2013.
The Department of Justice issues guidelines that are meant to regulate the recruitment and ongoing relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and confidential informants. These guidelines outline matters such as situations in which the FBI may authorize illegal activity by an informant, and how an informant may get paid despite what an informant may think their information is worth. Federal agencies often have guidelines based on Department of Justice policies on the use of confidential informants. Similarly, State and local law enforcement agencies often have policies and guidelines on how to operate while dealing with informants.
Considerations When Deciding to Cooperate
Having an informant with a relatively short criminal history record is better for law enforcement because the informant is more likely to be believed by a jury than a person with an extensive rap sheet. Keep in mind when making the decision to become an informant that, especially on the federal level, becoming an informant may lead the prosecution to file for a departure from minimum sentencing guidelines to allow for a more lenient sentence. This can be beneficial to an informant with an extensive criminal record. However, if you have a short criminal history and are facing a minor charge, becoming an informant may not be worth the risks involved. It is critical that you seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney soon after you discover you are facing trial to ensure that you make a well thought out and informed decision.
Contact a New York Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are a facing criminal charges and think you have information that could assist you in reducing your charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the pros and cons of cooperating with New York or federal authorities. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.