Informants Must Pass Reliability Tests

Posted by Neil Shouse | Aug 26, 2009 | 0 Comments

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.")

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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