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The Informants Are Watching Us ... But Who's Watching The Informants?

The ACLU is working with lawyers, elected officials and in the community to promote awareness and ask for accountability measures such as corroboration of information from informants, and reliability hearings to test the credibility of informants.

Check out a few stories that hit the headlines in the month of November, 2007. They're just snapshots of the injustices that occur every day in America - when known criminals are employed as informants to do the work that police should be doing:

The Associated Press reported that while one South Carolina police department was paying an informant to participate in drug deals, another local sheriff's department was expending resources to bust the same informant for committing the very same drug offenses!

After the informant was caught in the sheriff's sting, the informant accused several sheriff's deputies of beating him and breaking his teeth by shoving a shotgun's barrel in his mouth. Even though a state agency cleared the deputies of the beating, it does not appear that anyone is looking into how to keep law enforcement agencies from working against one another when it comes to informants.

The San Antonio Express News reported that Texas' highest criminal appeals court issued a decision that, in effect, allows police officers to give illegal drugs - even when the drugs are evidence in a case -- to informants for their personal use! In this case, a police officer caught the potential informant with drugs, but before booking the evidence in her case he gave some of the drugs back to her so she could get high. The officer's defense to the tampering-with-evidence charge? "I was trying to create a snitch."

The Asbury Park Press reported that a New Jersey police officer was accused of regularly having sex with a married informant, and at least once brutally raping her, which resulted in her bearing his child. The informant has accused the police department of permitting and encouraging police officers to sexually harass and have sex with female informants and other women they encounter while on duty.

The Mayor proclaimed "no wrongdoing," and the police officer who fathered the informant's child is back on patrol - apparently with a free pass to "work with" informants.

The Daily Southtown News in Illinois reported that an informant was sent to prison for fraud, impersonating an FBI agent and lying to federal authorities. The informant fraudulently schemed to extort money from several individuals, and when one of his victims refused to give him money, he reported him to the FBI and claimed that he was a terrorist!

Unfortunately, the Illinois State Police, the FBI, and the DEA all used this paid informant for years to convict people and put them in prison. Even though the informant was convicted of falsely accusing people, it does not appear that anyone is looking into whether innocent people are in prison today because of his lies during his years as a supposedly "reliable" informant.

The Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia reported that after an informant drew narcotics officers into a deadly shootout where they killed a civilian, the informant's testimony will determine whether the police are in fact liable for the killing. Unfortunately, the informant has changed his story too many times to know what actually happened.

First, he denied that he worked as an informant in the past. Then he said he had. He then denied knowing specific things about the drug supplier who was being investigated. He later said he did. He then said the drug supplier was armed and dangerous. Later he said he was not. How can we make such life-and-death decisions without requiring that information from informants be corroborated?

The way our government uses informants is so ripe for abuse that now law enforcement officers and courts aren't capable of finding what's true. Whether each of these cases is the police officer's fault or the informant's fault - or both - one thing is clear: our nation's informant system is broken.

You can help advance the ACLU's work by reporting any experience you've had with the use of informants in your community by filling out the story collection form online at (see below for more information.) Prisoners can have their family members or a friend submit their story online. - Source: ACLU Blog, Saturday, November 17, 2007

To tell your story, or otherwise contact the ACLU Informant Abuse Project by mail, write:

ACLU: Informant Abuse Project
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004

ACLU Launches Informant Abuse Project

Unlike witnesses, informants are motivated by self-advancement. Informants work for the government, often secretly, to gather and provide information or to testify in exchange for cash or leniency in punishment for their own crimes. Preliminary research indicates that up to 80% of all drug cases in America may be based on information provided by informants.

Putting police work in the hands of known criminals and blindly trusting that justice will be done is an unnecessary evil.

Unfortunately, today's informant system does just that. It lacks the oversight mechanisms and regulations necessary to ensure that informants are telling the truth. Too often, informants are pressured into lying at the expense of innocent people in order to save their own skin.

A steady parade of scandals also demonstrates the sad reality that too many times law enforcement has turned a blind eye to the serious, violent crimes being committed by informants while assisting with investigations of less serious crimes, such as non-violent drug offenses. Add to all of this, the vast over-reliance on informants in policing communities of color, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Blind trust in the informant system is dangerous. Our public's safety and the integrity of our justice system demand that policymakers put in place strong oversight mechanisms and regulations to ensure informant reliability.

Ensure Reliability: Unreliable informant testimony is one of the largest sources of wrongful convictions in this country.

Require Corroboration: Informants are motivated by self-advancement. We can't trust them on their word alone.

Collect Data: Today's informant system operates in the shadows, making basic assessments about the safety and effectiveness of informant use virtually impossible.

Rebuild Trust Between Police & Communities: The over-reliance on informants in policing minority neighborhoods destroys both the fabric of the community and its trust in law enforcement.

Limit Informant Use to Serious Crimes: The risks associated with using informants are not justified for catching non-violent offenders, like people who use drugs.

For More, see:

Also visit our "Informants: Resources for a Snitch Culture" section.

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