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Frederick J. Brynn, P.C.

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

It can almost be unbelievable to think that a close friend or family member would betray you to the police and be a key witness in a federal prosecution against you. As unbelievable as it may be to an accused person, however, family members and friends often work as confidential informants for the government. Federal law enforcement officers rely greatly on the information provided by informants in their investigations of people suspected of federal crimes.

Federal agents may use willing informants, informants seeking to make deals for lighter sentences, or in at least one case, unwitting informants. There have even been lawsuits filed people who have accused law enforcement of creating social media accounts using their (the plaintiffs’) personas in order to make it appear as if they are cooperating with police.

Although federal agents using informants require the informant to provide truthful information, it is not always possible to ensure an informant is telling the truth. The informant may play the system to get better terms on a plea bargain, for example, and give the government unreliable information. Unfortunately, unreliable information may lead to the prosecution of innocent people.

Federal agencies using informants often set their own guidelines for reviewing informants to make sure they only rely on reliable information in their investigations. Informants have to be registered with the federal agency to which they are providing information. As part of regulating confidential informants, federal law enforcement agencies may consider the informant’s criminal background and motivation for providing information, among other factors. Some informants may exchange information for money.

Because of the nature of their work, informants may sometimes be allowed to commit some crimes in order to get information that aids the criminal investigation. This can sometimes raise questions of entrapment by the defense. Entrapment is only a defense where the defendant can show that the (1) government induced him or her to commit the crime, and (2) the defendant lacked predisposition to engage in the criminal conduct without the government’s inducement. If law enforcement officials send in the informant to specifically engage in a crime with the defendant, the informant is considered the government for purposes of the entrapment definition.

Law enforcement officers may rely on informant information to get warrants, without revealing the identity of the informant. However, if the case goes to court, the informant would have to testify in person. If an officer relies on a confidential informant’s information to get warrants, the judge in the case is supposed to make a determination of the reliability of the informant, based on the circumstances of the case.

Contact a Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a state or federal crime, whether or not the evidence against you is based on the word of an informant, you need to contact a federal criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco, CA immediately. 

Thanks to The Morales Law Firm for their insight into criminal defense and federal prosecutions.

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