People in a row waiting for the Jury's verdict. Evidence in drug cases

Are Paid Confidential Informant Testimonies Reliable Evidence in Drug Cases?

Confidential informants may provide integral information to help build criminal investigations, but how reliable is that information when they are receiving payment for their services? To protect them, state law requires the identity of informants be kept confidential. For those facing criminal charges, however, this creates challenges in questioning the accuracy and validity of the information given at trial.

People in a row waiting for the Jury's verdict. Evidence in drug cases

If a confidential informant played a role in your arrest, you need to discuss your options with a Minneapolis drug crime lawyer. Call Max Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys. 952-913-1421.

Why Confidential Informants Matter in Drug Cases

Confidential informants play a crucial role in undercover investigations related to drug offenses. They provide law enforcement with insider information about illegal activities, often inaccessible through other means. Such information can include details about drug trafficking routes, distribution networks, and key players in the illicit drug trade, so don’t get caught with these drugs. Law enforcement agencies rely on this information to initiate investigations, obtain search warrants, and ultimately make arrests.

The testimony provided by confidential informants is particularly valuable because it can help authorities overcome challenges they might otherwise encounter when gathering evidence in drug crime cases. For example, informants can provide firsthand accounts of drug transactions, which can be difficult to prove without direct evidence. Additionally, informants can help law enforcement identify and target high-level drug traffickers, leading to more significant arrests and dismantling of drug networks.

In some cases, confidential informants are individuals who have been caught with drugs themselves and are cooperating with law enforcement in exchange for leniency. For example, an individual arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or possession of illegal drugs may agree to become an informant to avoid prosecution or reduce their sentence. In these cases, informants are often instructed by law enforcement to continue their illegal activities while under surveillance, with the goal of gathering evidence against higher-level targets.

The Reliability of Paid Informant Testimony

Paid informant testimony can be a critical component of prosecuting drug cases, providing insights and evidence that are often difficult to obtain through other means. Informants, often with first-hand knowledge of criminal activities, can offer valuable information that leads to arrests and convictions. 

The reliability of such testimony can be a point of contention, however, as informants may have various motivations and biases that can impact the accuracy of their statements. These motivations can range from seeking leniency in their own legal troubles to financial compensation for their cooperation. Additionally, informants may have personal vendettas or biases that color their testimony. As a result, it is crucial for prosecutors and defense attorneys alike to carefully evaluate the credibility of informant testimony and corroborate it with other evidence whenever possible.

Inherent Biases and Motivations

One of the primary concerns with paid informant testimony is the potential for biases and motivations to influence the information provided. Informants may have a vested interest in the outcome of a case, such as seeking leniency in their own legal troubles. Biases such as these can create a conflict of interest that may compromise the accuracy and reliability of their testimony.

Questions were raised about the motivation of a confidential informant in a drug crime case that resulted in the charges getting dropped, and a lawsuit against the Minneapolis Police Department. In obtaining a search warrant, a law enforcement officer attested that a reliable source had observed the man selling drugs at the property. The officer also claimed to have found baggies containing drugs in the man’s outdoor trash bins. The judge threw out the case after ruling the officer intentionally and recklessly disregarded the truth when applying for the search warrant. 

Accuracy and Corroboration

Verifying the accuracy of information provided by a paid informant can be challenging. Unlike physical evidence or surveillance footage, informant testimony relies heavily on the informant’s word. Without corroboration from independent sources or physical evidence, there is a risk that the information provided by the informant may be inaccurate or incomplete.

One common method of corroborating informant testimony is through surveillance or undercover operations. Law enforcement may observe and document drug transactions or other illegal activities as described by the informant. This evidence can provide independent verification of the informant’s claims and strengthen the case against the accused.

Another way to corroborate informant testimony is through the use of physical evidence. For example, drugs or drug paraphernalia seized during a raid or search warrant can be linked back to the informant’s information. Additionally, phone records, financial records, or other documentary evidence can be used to support the informant’s claims.

In some cases, corroborating evidence may come from other witnesses or sources. For example, another informant or a cooperating defendant may provide similar information that aligns with the original informant’s testimony. Witness statements or surveillance footage from third parties may also support the informant’s version of events.

Corroboration is not always required for informant testimony to be admissible in court.

The man in the Minneapolis confidential informant case denied the charges against him, and questioned who would have said they saw him dealing drugs. While law enforcement reportedly gave a name for the witness to the court, that information was not made available to the defense. 

While paid informant testimony can provide valuable leads and evidence in drug cases, it is essential to weigh its benefits against the risks. Defense attorneys must be vigilant in challenging the reliability of informant testimony, while prosecutors must ensure that proper safeguards are in place to protect the integrity of the legal process.

Laws Governing the Use of Confidential Informants in Minnesota Drug Cases

In Minnesota, specific statutes and regulations establish guidelines for law enforcement working with confidential informants. The laws are designed to ensure the proper handling and supervision of these informants. They aim to protect the rights of individuals and to maintain the integrity of the criminal investigation process. 

Minnesota Statutes on Confidential Informants

State law requires each law enforcement agency to establish their own written policies for the recruitment and use of confidential informants. The policies should include guidelines for determining the reliability of confidential informants. Agencies are also required to provide officers with training in handling informants to ensure they understand the policies, legal requirements, and ethical considerations.

Police Handling and Documentation Procedures

Law enforcement agencies in Minnesota are also required to create oversight procedures for reviewing informant activities to ensure compliance with the agency policies and the legal requirements. The program has limited public visibility, and a report found inconsistencies in reporting on the use of confidential informants. Some indicate on the search warrant application that an informant was paid, while others do not.

Minnesota law enforcement agencies are subject to oversight and accountability measures with regard to the use of confidential informants. They may undergo regular audits to ensure compliance and help prevent abuses of the use of informants. The findings of these audits, as well as information about the outcomes of confidential informant cases, however, are not made available to the public.

Building a Strong Defense Against Paid Informant Testimony

Defending against paid informant testimony in drug cases requires a strategic approach that challenges the credibility of the informant and seeks corroborating evidence to support your defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate these challenges and build a strong defense on your behalf.

Challenging the Informant’s Credibility

One of the primary strategies in defending against paid informant testimony is to challenge the credibility of the informant. To this end, your drug crime lawyer may seek to expose inconsistencies or contradictions in their statements. Defense attorneys often conduct thorough investigations into the informant’s background to uncover any biases, motivations, or criminal history that may undermine their credibility as a witness.

The Minneapolis man’s attorney questions whether there was an actual witness who provided confidential testimony in her client’s case. Without any information about the witness, however, the defense was unable to confirm the informant’s identity and credibility.

Demanding Corroborating Evidence

To counter the potentially biased or unreliable testimony of a paid informant, it’s crucial to seek corroborating evidence that supports your defense. Such evidence can include independent witness accounts, surveillance footage, or physical evidence that contradicts the informant’s testimony. By presenting additional evidence that supports your version of events, you may cast doubt on the credibility of the informant’s testimony.

To this end, your attorney may:

Gather independent witness accounts: Seek out individuals who may have witnessed the events in question and can provide testimony that contradicts the informant’s version.

Track down surveillance footage: Many public spaces and businesses have security cameras. If the alleged crime took place in an area with surveillance, subpoena the footage to see if it captures the events in question and contradicts the informant’s narrative.

Collect physical evidence: Look for any physical evidence that can disprove the informant’s claims. For instance, this could include things like alibis, receipts, DNA evidence, or security key card swipes.

Investigate the informant’s background: Look into the informant’s past for any criminal convictions or instances of providing false testimony. Evidence of a checkered past can raise doubts about their trustworthiness.

In cases such as the one involving the Minneapolis man whose charges were dropped, not having access to the informant’s name or other details can make looking into him or her difficult. Therefore, attorneys may have to rely on other options for calling into question the accuracy of the informant’s testimony.

Exposing Bias and Motivations

Paid informants often have personal motivations for cooperating with law enforcement, such as seeking leniency in their own legal troubles or financial compensation. The Minneapolis Police Department paid out $305,948 to confidential informants between 2019 and 2022. State-required reviews of the program are not made public, and the department does not have to release records of how, when, and how much confidential informants were paid for their testimony.

If they are aware that an informant was paid, defense attorneys may use financial gain as an argument to challenge whether the testimony given is truthful. Highlighting the informant’s biases and motivations, drug crime lawyers may undermine their credibility and weaken the prosecutions case. 

The Role of Your Criminal Defense Attorney

When facing charges based on paid informant testimony in a drug case, the role of your criminal defense attorney is crucial. An experienced attorney can protect your rights, challenge the prosecution’s case, and work to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. A legal representative can also help you understand what happens if you violate probation.

One of the primary roles of your defense attorney is to protect your rights throughout the legal process. Your legal representation will ensure that you are treated fairly by law enforcement, that your rights are not violated during the investigation and trial, and that you receive a fair trial by an impartial jury.

Your defense attorney will work diligently to challenge the prosecution’s case, including the reliability of informant testimony. To this end, your lawyer may cross-examine the informant, present contradictory evidence, and question the prosecution’s witnesses. By challenging the prosecution’s case, your attorney can weaken their argument and improve your chances of a favorable outcome.

Continuing to advocate for her clients, and others who may find themselves facing drug charges due to confidential informant testimony, the representation for the man who won the lawsuit against the Minneapolis Police Department is pushing for more transparency in the use of confidential informants. She argues that it should be mandatory to report whether an informant received payment for his or her testimony. With access to such information, drug crime lawyers may better ensure their clients are treated fairly and have their rights upheld throughout the criminal justice process. 

Facing drug charges with a confidential informant? Max Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys will stand up with and for you. Contact us today.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.
Minnesota recently passed a public safety bill that brings sweeping changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. While minors sometimes run afoul of the law, the juvenile justice system seeks to account for the differences between children and adults. Therefore, while the penalties for adults convicted of crimes focus on punishment, those for juveniles are aimed at diversion and restorative practices.