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Thick as Thieves: Confidential Informants and Law Enforcement

It is no secret that police officers often rely, sometimes heavily, on confidential informants to provide information for criminal investigations.  These “CI’s” are typically and often used in drug investigations.  Officers often want to maintain the anonymity of their CI to facilitate other investigations and for the individual’s safety.  The United States Supreme Court has permitted the law enforcement’s efforts at keeping CI’s anonymous and explained that withholding an informant’s identity is a privilege afforded the government to allow it to protect its sources of information.  Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59 (1957).

However, law enforcement’s efforts at confidentiality are limited by its underlying purpose and the concept of fundamental fairness.  Id.  “Where the disclosure of an informer’s identity, or of the contents of his communication, is relevant and helpful to the defense of an accused, or is essential to a fair determination of a cause, the privilege must give way.”  Indiana has addressed this issue and held because the disclosure of the C.I.’s identity was relevant and helpful to his defense and essential to a fair trial, the privilege must not be maintained.  See Williams v. State, 528 N.E.2d 496 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988).  And because “[a]nonymity effectively shields from scrutiny any possible ulterior motives; the situation is rife with the potential for pranks and mischief.”  Jaggers v. State, 687 N.E.2d 180, 182–83 (Ind. 1997). 

While law enforcement may want to and often can keep their informants confidential, officers cannot do so if the disclosure of that individual is essential to a fair trial.  Depending on the circumstances of a particular case, an informant may or may not be essential to a defendant’s right to a fair trial. 

Looking for an Indiana criminal defense attorney that understands your rights? Contact the attorneys at Keffer Barnhart LLP today if you have questions or believe your constitutional or criminal rights have been violated.  We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case.  Act now and contact us today at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.