The Problem With Confidential Informants

We all want to catch, prosecute and convict violent criminals.  So when the police use investigative tools like confidential informants to gather evidence and develop suspects it should be a good thing, right?  But does the end justify the means? (Read my post on that subject here)  What could possibly go wrong with this concept?

Is justice blind, or is justice for those who can afford it?

Is justice blind, or is justice for those who can afford it?

I recently read a story about a man who stole a car.  When the car thief was arrested he told the cops that there was meth in the car when he stole it.  Based on that information the police busted down the door of the vehicle’s owner and, when the homeowner grabbed a gun to defend himself against the apparent home-invasion the cops shot him dead.

The Innocence Project estimates that 18% of convictions that are overturned because of DNA testing there was in informant who testified against the defendant.  Often these people receive some sort of incentive to provide this testimony, whether it be release from prison, reduced sentence or monetary compensation.  Some of them are witnesses in multiple cases, perhaps “career informants.”

Aside from the obvious concept that a criminal might not be the most honest witness, there is something inherently wrong with a witness-for-hire system.  One has to speculate that such practices would encourage false testimony.

This is even more relevant since the passing of the Patriot Act (see my post on this subject here), giving the federal government the power to detain American citizens without due process based on the suspicion of terrorist activity.  This can be as innocent as someone saying they heard you talking about wanting the current administration out of office.

While I am all for holding people accountable for their actions, I am vehemently opposed to paying or otherwise compensating potential witnesses.  Since 1973 over 130 people who were on death row have been exonerated.   This is just the death row data…how many more convictions have been overturned?  How many innocent people could not afford to continue appeals or the court would not hear them?

Our system is broken.  It will not be fixed until we, the people, demand it from our elected representatives.  I hope and prey that you and your loved ones never face these issues, but if you do, I hope you are more fortunate than those who are currently behind bars…or dead…because someone SAID they did something wrong!

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