Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Report: Confidential Informants in New Jersey

It's rare to get this much data about informant practices. The New Jersey ACLU has released this important study of confidential informant practices across the state, based on scores of documents, cases, interviews, and government policies. According to the study,
The use of informants in drug law enforcement in New Jersey was found to be largely informal, undocumented, and unsupervised, and therefore vulnerable to error and corruption.
Among many findings, the study determined that informant use led to the following problems: manufactured criminal conduct, financial abuse, police coersion, harm to the informants, unreliability, misuse of juveniles, using "big fish" to catch "little fish," and the widespread violation of laws and guidelines. The study proposes reforms, and apparently a number of New Jersey counties have already responded with improved policies.

California passes jailhouse informant corroboration law

Governor Brown just signed important new legislation requiring corroboration before a jailhouse informant can testify. SF Chronicle story here: Law requires corroboration of cellmate's testimony. California joins Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Idaho, and several other states that require safeguards to counteract the well-documented unreliability of jailhouse snitch testimony. Here is part of the bill:
A jury or judge may not convict a defendant, find a special circumstance true, or use a fact in aggravation based on the uncorroborated testimony of an in-custody informant.
An "in custody informant" is defined as: "a person, other than a codefendant, percipient witness, accomplice, or coconspirator, whose testimony is based on statements allegedly made by the defendant while both the defendant and the informant were held in within a city or county jail, state penal institution, or correctional institution." Full disclosure: I testified in support of this legislation.