Federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), regularly use confidential informants in order to secretly collect evidence against criminal suspects. These confidential informants are often criminals themselves seeking lighter punishment for their own crimes, and, in some cases, a financial payday.
The federal government regularly pays confidential informants to obtain evidence and then testify in court. These payments come from federal tax money, and in some cases can reach into the millions of dollars. Needless to say, this gives confidential informants a strong self-interest in providing damaging testimony and can make it extremely difficult for criminal defendants to be successful at trial.
Your Rights Regarding Use of Confidential Informants
Federal agencies use confidential informants both during investigations and in prison. During investigations, the FBI, DEA, and other agencies may pay confidential informants to either flip on their criminal partners or else infiltrate a criminal enterprise in order to gain first-hand knowledge of its activities. In these situations, since no one has been arrested, the government generally has broad leeway to use criminal informants to solicit incriminating information without worrying about anyone’s right to be represented by an attorney.
In prison, a jailhouse informant may be placed in a cell with a suspect in order to try to solicit a confession. However, if you have been arrested and read your Miranda rights (or if you should have been read your Miranda rights), the government cannot use a confidential informant to do things it cannot legally do on its own. This means that, if you have invoked your right to an attorney, it is generally unlawful for the government to hire a confidential informant to surreptitiously interrogate you without your knowledge.
On the other hand, if you voluntarily provide information to a confidential informant in prison, then the government may be able to use it against you in court. In any event, you will likely need to fight to identify the person who has testified against you (informants’ identities are tightly protected, and in some cases, prosecutors can use their testimony without identifying them in court) in order to confront your accuser.
Uncovering Payments to Confidential Informants
If uncovering the identity of a confidential informant is a challenge, you can imagine that finding out how much they were paid can often be next to impossible. Federal agencies go to great lengths to hide what they pay their confidential informants even though this information is critical to allowing a jury to afford appropriate weight to informants’ testimony. If someone has been paid to testify against you, this is information you deserve to know. At The Criminal Defense Firm, we can help you protect your legal rights.
Speak with a Criminal Defense Lawyer at The Criminal Defense Firm
If you have been charged with a crime based upon information provided by a confidential informant, the criminal defense lawyers at The Criminal Defense Firm can make sure you receive a fair trial. Many of our attorneys are former prosecutors, and we are intimately familiar with the strategies the government uses to protect information about its informants. For more information, contact us to schedule a free case evaluation today.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden is a national litigation and trial criminal defense attorney who practices exclusively in the area of federal law.