Recent Blog Posts

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

North Dakota passes cutting edge legislation

In the wake of the death of college student Andrew Sadek, North Dakota has passed Andrew's Law, an important piece of legislation that sets a new standard in informant reform.  Some of the most heartening aspects of the bill are as follows:

  • It bans the use of informants who are 15 years old or younger. Only California and New Jersey currently ban the use of juvenile informants at the state level, and their cutoff is 12 years old.  
  • College police may not use college students as informants.
  • Police officers must be trained before they use informants.
  • All informant agreements must be in writing. The agreement must include, among other things, an explanation of what the informant is expected to do and what benefit they can expect to receive.  This is particularly important since young and vulnerable informants may not know what is expected of them, and law enforcement may continue to use them without clear boundaries or limits.
  • The agreement must tell the informant of their right to consult with counsel.
  • The agreement must warn the informant that the work may be dangerous.
  • The bill creates procedures for complaints, and an investigative process when an informant is killed.
This legislation is the culmination of a decade-long public debate over vulnerable informants that has been brewing since 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman was killed in Florida in 2008.  Since then, we have learned about the rampant, unregulated use of young informants, and how some campus police pressure college students into risking their education and even their lives.  North Dakota's new law is one of the best responses so far.  More details from the Huffington Post here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Montana introduces informant reform legislation

Montana State Senator Nels Swandal (R) has introduced legislation--SB0249--that would improve the reliability and accountability of informant use.  Among other things, the bill would require the recording of informant statements, improved disclosure of informant benefits and prior criminal history, reliability hearings, and post-conviction remedies for wrongful conviction.  News coverage here.

Congressional hearing on informant use at ATF and DEA

Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on April 4, 2017, in response to U.S. Department of Justice reports that ATF and DEA were mishandling their informants.  Testimony was heard from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, DEA Acting Principal Deputy Administrator Robert Patterson, and ATF Associate Deputy Director Ronald Turk.

From the Committee's website:

TAKEAWAYS: 
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continually refused to provide the Committee its new policy regarding the proper use of confidential informants (CIs). During the hearing, Chairman Chaffetz issued a subpoena to DEA for the documents.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s (ATF) and DEA’s inadequate oversight over the CI program prevents the agencies from properly tracking and monitoring CIs.
  • Since 2012, ATF and DEA paid CIs almost $260 million, with payments largely determined by field agents who did not seek approval or review from headquarters.
  • The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) found incomplete and inaccurate tracking of money or amounts paid to CIs at both agencies.
  • DOJ advised ATF Associate Deputy Director Turk not to appear and testify before the Committee’s hearing last month on the death of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata.