New Court Decision on Snitch Confidentiality Could Impact Your Drug Case

A recent decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court states the government must disclose non-identifying information regarding a police officer’s source of information that leads to arrest.

Minnesota Ruling on Confidential Informants

In criminal cases, the use of confidential informants, also referred to as “snitches,” is common in certain types of crimes that involve drugs, homicides, and sexual assaults. Many states rely on information provided by snitches to prove a case against a defendant. Minnesota law requires the State to protect a confidential informant’s identity, but recent changes allow Minnesota defense attorneys to hold police accountable when incriminating evidence is provided by a confidential informant.

On April 8, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a new ruling on the use of confidential informants. When a snitch provides incriminating evidence that leads to arrest, the government must now disclose non-identifying information about the source of the police officer’s information. The purpose of the ruling is to establish an informant’s reliability, while still protecting his/her identity. The courts look at several factors to determine whether a confidential informant is considered reliable:

  • Has the informant provided reliable information in the past?
  • Can police officers verify the information provided?
  • Did the informant come forward voluntarily?
  • Did the informant participate in an illegal sale or controlled purchase coordinated by the police?
  • Did the informant give any information against his/her own interests?

In a Minnesota criminal case, every criminal defense attorney has a responsibility to question authority that presents a risk to a defendant’s legal rights to a fair trial. Minneapolis drug attorneys often see drug arrests that are based on unlawful search and seizures and invalid search warrants. Every year, innocent people are arrested, charged, and even convicted of drug crimes based on untruthful or unreliable information acquired by snitches used by law enforcement.

The government’s use of confidential informants was integrated into law enforcement during the Prohibition Era in the 1920s. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms made snitches an integral part of the criminal justice system by using informants to catch alcohol and gun smugglers. Today,  snitches can earn forgiveness or leniency for every type of crime in exchange for information leading to arrests. Snitches have become law enforcement’s “tool of choice,” in the enforcement of drug-related crimes. It’s estimated that approximately 60% of defendants convicted of drug crimes are willing to act as snitches in exchange for reduced charges and prison sentences.

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

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.
If a county medical examiner’s work is called into question in one case, it can affect all those they were a part of. An independent review is underway of murder cases involving the testimony of the long-time medical examiner in Ramsey County, Minnesota. The review comes in response to a wrongful murder conviction that was recently vacated on the basis that the medical examiner gave flawed medical testimony.
You might ask how plea bargains work if you are considering settling your criminal case by skipping the trial phase. A plea bargain in Minneapolis, MN, happens when a criminal defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest instead of having the prosecution prove his or her guilt at trial. The prosecution agrees to reduce the charges, recommend less harsh penalties, or drop the charges altogether in exchange for a guilty plea.