Unlike witnesses, informants are motivated by self-advancement. Informants work for the government, often secretly, to gather and provide information or to testify in exchange for cash or leniency in punishment for their own crimes. Preliminary research indicates that up to 80% of all drug cases in America may be based on information provided by informants.
An informant can be a useful law enforcement tool – a necessary evil – if used properly.
But putting police work in the hands of known criminals and blindly trusting that justice will be done is an unnecessary evil.
Unfortunately, today’s informant system does just that. It lacks the oversight mechanisms and regulations necessary to ensure that informants are telling the truth. Too often, informants are pressured into lying at the expense of innocent people in order to save their own skin. A steady parade of scandals also demonstrates the sad reality that too many times law enforcement has turned a blind eye to the serious, violent crimes being committed by informants while assisting with investigations of less serious crimes, such as non-violent drug offenses. Add to all of this, the vast over-reliance on informants in policing communities of color, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Blind trust in the informant system is dangerous. Our public’s safety and the integrity of our justice system demand that policymakers put in place strong oversight mechanisms and regulations to ensure informant reliability.
ACLU National Drug Policy