Federal investigators have a lot of tools at their disposal, especially as technology has evolved over the years. However, despite the technology at their disposal, many investigators and prosecutors rely on information provided by others. Often, law enforcement agents attempt to get those who are close to a suspect to provide the government with information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution. These individuals are known as criminal informants, and they are used throughout California.
There are guidelines in place to help ensure that the government uses informants that are reliable. When initially assessing an informant's suitability, for example, a federal agent must assess the informant's position within any organization related to the investigation, his or her relationship to the target, the informant's motivation for providing information and the extent to which the provided information can be corroborated. Agents should also analyze a criminal informant's truthfulness, his or her history of substance abuse and whether he or she is related to any law enforcement official.
Criminal informants should be re-assessed at regular intervals to ensure that they remain reliable, and there are guidelines regarding the relationship between a criminal informant and law enforcement. For example, an agent cannot exchange gifts with an informant and cannot engage in any financial ventures with an informant. Likewise, the government has placed restrictions on the amount, the circumstances and the procedures by which criminal informants are paid.
Criminal informants can lead to large-scale arrests and the levying of serious federal charges. Those facing drug trafficking charges, for example, could be confronted by the very real possibility of years in prison, if found guilty of the alleged crime.
Nonetheless, though the government has guidelines regarding the use of criminal informants, they may be bullied and coerced into giving false information. Thus, those dealing with this situation may want the assistance of a legal professional who can help them analyze the situation and how a criminal defense can be drafted to combat it.
Source: ACLU.org, "Department of Justice Guidelines Regarding The Use of Confidential Informants," accessed on March 26, 2016