Resources

  • SNITCHING: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice
  • U.S. Attorney General's Guidelines on the FBI's Use of Confidential Human Sources
  • Sarah Stillman, The Throwaways, The New Yorker (2012) (article on the use of juvenile informants)

Recent Blog Posts

Thursday, June 21, 2018

ALEC promotes informant legislative reform

Better known for its advocacy on behalf of business and economic growth, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has issued new model Jailhouse Informant Regulations.  They require state's attorneys to keep track of informants who provide information or testimony, to record all benefits promised or given to informants, and to provide full disclosure of an informant's criminal record, their participation in other cases, and all benefits.  Of particular note is how comprehensively the model regulations define the term "benefit":

  "Benefit' means any plea bargain, bail consideration, reduction or modification of sentence, or any other leniency, immunity, financial payment, reward, or amelioration of current or future conditions of incarceration in return for, or in connection with, the informant’s participation in any information-gathering activity, investigation, or operation, or in return for, or in connection with, the informant’s testimony in the criminal proceeding in which the prosecutor intends to call him or her as a witness."

The definition recognizes that informant benefits come in many shapes and sizes, from leniency to money to improved conditions of confinement.   The definition also recognizes that informants can receive benefits for information-gathering activities even if they are never called to testify.  A strong definition is important because it captures the reality that informants are motivated by a wide range of potential rewards which can affect their behavior and reliability.

ALEC's model regulations are consistent with reforms in other states such as Texas and Florida that are starting to require greater transparency and disclosure regarding informants.  They are a great start for other states considering reform.  They are also a great sign that the risks of informant use are now firmly part of the mainstream legislative conversation.

From the ALEC website: "The American Legislative Exchange Council is America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism."

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jailhouse informants used threats to get confessions

This piece from Ted Rohrlich, who is now writing for Injustice Watch, chronicles the use of two Mexican Mafia informants in Southern California who sometimes threatened their cellmates to get them to confess.  The informants, whose work came to light as part of the Orange County snitch scandal, were paid over $300,000 over six years by law enforcement in multiple counties.  They also received numerous breaks and perks.  From the story "Miranda ‘loophole’: CA police use gang enforcers to win cellmate confessions":

  "[C]onfessions did not always flow, and in several cases, court records show, the enforcers-turned-informants—like other Southern California jailhouse informants before them—resorted to death threats to provoke suspects to talk. They claimed suspects were on “green light” lists of inmates that Mexican Mafia leaders had ordered killed because they were believed to have broken a Mexican Mafia rule. But if they confessed—admitting the killing of which they were suspected but denying that they had broken the rule—the enforcers-turned informants could go to bat for them and have them removed from the lists."

The constitutional law here is interesting.  In Illinois v Perkins, the Supreme Court held that the government can deploy jailhouse informants against incarcerated inmates to get confessions without Miranda warnings, as long as those inmates have not yet been charged with a crime.  But the Court also held in Arizona v. Fulminante that the use of threats to extort confessions can render those confessions involuntary in violation of due process.

This story also deserves attention because of who wrote it--no one knows jailhouse snitches like Ted Rohrlich does.  He was the Los Angeles Times reporter who broke a series of stories in the late 1980s about the rampant use of informants in the LA County jail.  That series helped trigger a ground breaking 1990 grand jury investigation which remains one of the most important sources for insights about jailhouse informant use.