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Challenging Confidential Informants: The Commonwealth's Dirty Little Secret


Confidential informants (CIs) are a common weapon used by the police to provide intelligence and aid them in Drug investigations in ways that undercover police officers just can’t do in the same way. Confidential Informants are used in ways that are borderline grey areas constitutionally. Most people used as confidential informants have murky criminal records and substance abuse histories. Mix in that they are often working as an informant as consideration for leniency in their own criminal cases, and you’ll see why courts and juries may not take a CI’s testimony at face value.

Despite their past histories, work done and information provided by CIs may serve for the basis of a search warrant application or eventual criminal charges against you as a defendant. Not all information supplied by a CI is legally sufficient to establish a valid, legal search warrant. When CI information forms the essential basis to a finding of probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant, the warrant authority must determine whether that CI’s information is reliable based on information given by the police. Factors to consider in an assessment of reliability include: prior reliable information given by the informant, corroboration by any other source, whether the information is current or stale, whether the informant’s statements were a declaration against interest; and whether the accused’s reputation supported the tip. The facts are assessed under a totality of the circumstances analysis, and no one factor is definitive. In a criminal case where the CI is found to be unreliable, the warrant may be challenged and the evidence derived from the search potentially suppressed.

Many times the hardest part of challenging CI information is the fact that the CI is anonymous. The Confrontation Clause of the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees each defendant the right to confront their accuser. However, the police also have an interest in keeping informants anonymous. The courts will apply another balancing test in determining whether the Commonwealth must disclose the identity of an informant. The United States Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have adopted standards for whether the Commonwealth must disclose the identity of a CI. Disclosure of a CI’s identity is required, if under the circumstances of the case, a reasonable possibility appears that disclosure of the informant’s identity will be exculpatory to the defendant.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in which a confidential informant has supplied the crucial evidence against you, odds are the charges you are facing are fairly serious and substantial. It takes a skilled and experienced defense attorney to know how to successfully challenge information and evidence supplied by a CI and potentially get it excluded from use in the criminal case against you. Attorney Frank Walker is a Nationwide Top 100 Criminal Defense attorney and Super Lawyer with years of experience fighting cases involving confidential informants. Don’t try to go it alone, Attorney Walker can help. Call today at (412) 212-3878 to find out how Attorney Walker can fight for you!