Confidential Informant's Identity May Be Disclosed
Often, the State relies upon snitches (or, more politically correct – a confidential informant (“CI”)) to prove their case against a defendant. You see this often in drug cases. The State values this ‘insider’ information and will do everything it can to protect their confidential informant’s identity. Often, this can lead to a frustratingly difficult ability to prepare an appropriate and adequate defense – unless you push.
Minnesota law permits the State to protect its snitches. The theory goes that doing so is in the interests of providing safety and protection to the snitch (because, we all know the sayings about what happens to snitches). But, their identity can be disclosed when pressed by the defense.
The court can order the disclosure of the informant’s identity when it is relevant, helpful, and necessary for a fair trial. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? But, of course, it becomes a lot more convoluted and difficult for the defense than it should for a couple reasons.
First, the defendant bears the burden of proving to the court why disclosure is necessary. Second, there is no fixed rule with respect to when the identity must be disclosed. Instead, every case is analyzed on its own merits, balancing the public’s interests versus the individuals right to prepare a defense. In this balancing test, the court looks to four primary factors (though, the courts admittedly will consider more in a given case):
- Whether the informant is a material witness – i.e. an eye witness or an active participant in the alleged crime, or simply reporting information to the police;
- Whether the informant’s testimony is material to the issue of guilt, meaning the court will not order disclosure if the informant’s testimony is not likely to help the defendant defeat an element of the alleged crime;
- Whether the testimony of the officers is suspect; and
- Whether the informant’s testimony might assist with an entrapment defense.
Evidence from a snitch can have a huge impact on a case. Obtaining the identity allows for the defendant to prepare a complete defense and can lead to further investigation that can prove critical to the case. Getting the identity must be done during the pre-trial stages, which means you need a knowledgeable and aggressive Minnesota criminal defense lawyer to press the State and the Court on this issue early in the process.
If you find yourself faced with charges trumped up by a snitch, don’t hesitate. Call us now.