Police informants in California provide the authorities with information that leads to search warrants, wiretaps, surveillance and the solving of crimes. The types of informants can range from random citizens who are aware of criminal activity…to agents of the police who infiltrate criminal organizations and report on their activities.
No doubt informants are a very useful and effective law enforcement tool. But when their purported information leads to search warrants and wiretaps, the privacy of the suspects gets invaded. To insure that this invasion of privacy is warranted, the law requires that standards of reliability be observed.
For example, the judge issuing the search warrant can question the informant…either through live testimony or written affidavits. Specifically, the judge looks to see whether (1) the informer has a history of providing tips that proved reliable, or (2) there is independent corroboration of the informer's story.
As we see so often throughout the law, the judge engages in a “balancing of interests.” On the one hand, police need to solve crimes and bring to justice the offenders. On the other hand, our society seeks to protect the privacy of individuals and place checks on law enforcement's power to spy on our citizens. (Refer to our related articles, "Can I sue the California police?" and "Wiretap Orders Harder for Police to Get than Search Warrants.")