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.