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Use of confidential informants cloaked in controversy

Confidential informants are cloaked in secrecy that may place their reliability in question. Some confidential informants (often called CIs) have a past that includes as many or even more criminal charges and convictions as the people the informants are gathering information about. Many CIs also have a history of substance abuse and addiction, and that may put their reliability even more in doubt.

Used by the FBI since its establishment in 1908, informants have played a significant role in investigations and prosecutions involving a variety of crimes. Yet, to this day, there is doubt as to whether the use of CIs really improves public safety in every case.

Motivations in question

Since the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, fairness and openness are supposed to have defined the criminal justice system. Trials are a part of the public record, allowing the public to see that cases are adjudicated in a fair manner that protects the rights of the accused. Those facing criminal charges have a right to an attorney and a trial before an impartial jury.

However, in the current system, confidential informants can avoid cross-examination in court, with their “insights” going basically unchallenged. CIs are typically offered “deals” that may include plea bargains, and that can be a remarkable motivator for CIs to provide prosecutors with information that the prosecutors want to hear.

Criminal charges that arise from the use of CIs present complexities in any case. The need for a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney has never been more important to navigate through testimony and evidence, develop an effective theory of defense, and ensure that the rights and future of the accused are protected.