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Understanding the Role of Police Informants in Criminal Drug Charge Cases

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The drug dealing charge comes from outta nowhere, and you rack your brain trying to figure out who could accuse you of this.

You may well be dealing with what police call a “confidential reliable informant.”

But they’re not always confidential. You might be able to find out who turned you in, with a little help. And they’re definitely not always reliable—sometimes the State can’t get them to testify, which can help your case.

What Do Police Informants Do?

It depends. Sometimes they just give leads to law enforcement, which might mean they make an anonymous phone call or tell an officer they saw you with drugs. In legalese, these types are called “tipsters.”

Other informants take on a more active role. Many get directly involved in a drug deal with suspects. The highest level of informant participation is a “controlled buy.” Controlled buys generally go down like this:

  1. The informant meets his police officer handler. There, the informant calls the suspect and arranges a drug sale. Often, this is videoed or at least audio recorded.
  2. Before the controlled buy, the informant is searched by police. If the informant drives to the sale, they should search his car, too.
  3. Police give the informant his “tools of the trade.” This often includes a body wire to record voices and maybe even a body camera to video the buy. To buy the drugs, police give him marked money.
  4. Police follow or take the informant to the meeting place for the drug sale. This area may also be under officer surveillance. They might even be recording it. Undercover agents might be nearby.
  5. The deal is done.
  6. The informant returns to the police at a pre-arranged location, which might be the police station.
  7. Police search the informant again. The drugs are taken and tested.
  8. If the suspect is taken down right after the sale, police search to confirm any money on him includes the marked government funds.

A Potentially Big Weapon for You: Why Informants Do It

Motive plays a big role in criminal cases, and informants usually have huge reasons to testify against you. The main one often includes facing a long stretch in prison for their own charges. Saving themselves from decades in prison makes them willing to do just about anything, and that definitely includes lying on the stand.

Sometimes it’s personal. The informant doesn’t like you—it could be a jilted ex-lover or a competitor with a grudge. These folks want to see you go down. Grinding their ax on you can easily cause them to amputate the truth.

Level the Playing Field

The State’s got the drop on you, but it ain’t near over. You need an experienced defense team to help you find out who the informant is and exploit their need to testify.

You’ve got a lot at stake. Don’t let the State just have its way with you. Fight back. Get started by getting your questions answered by an experienced criminal defense attorney—fill out our Get Help Now form or start a live chat right where you are.

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
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