The police rely on confidential informants to make cases. For obvious reasons, law enforcement goes to great lengths to keep the identity of informants secret. However, in many instances, a person charged with a crime is entitled to find out who snitched on them.
Pursuant to Rule 9.04(B)(2) of the Mississippi Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court,
[d]isclosure of an informant’s identity shall not be required unless the confidential informant is to be produced at a hearing or trial or a failure to disclose his/her identity will infringe the constitutional rights of the accused or unless the informant was or depicts himself/herself as an eyewitness to the event or events constituting the charge against the defendant.
The Mississippi Supreme Court explained Rule 9.04(B)(2) this way:
If a reliable informant tells officers, ‘if you go to point X you will find evidence,’ the identity of the informant may be withheld. On the other hand, if the informant … says, ‘I will help you catch the suspect,’ and takes part in the police activity, or if the informant becomes a witness to the facts constituting a crime, he becomes a witness who may be required to appear at trial.
See Breckenridge v. State, 472 So.2d 373 (Miss. 1985).
Based upon these cases, there are two (2) types of confidential informants. The first type is the informant who merely tells police about criminal activity, has nothing to do with the activity itself, and is not an eyewitness to the criminal activity. This type of informant just gives police information. The police then go and conduct their own investigation and build a case independently, without using the informant further. In this circumstance, the Government is not required to disclose the identity of the informant.
The second type of informant is the one who actually participates, or claims to be an eyewitness to the crime. This typically occurs in drug cases where informants make “controlled buys” for the police, or where they arrange drug transactions. This also sometimes occurs when an informant has knowledge of criminal activity, gives this information to the police, and the police use the information to obtain a search warrant. Under these circumstances, the Government is required to disclose the identity of the informant to the defense.
Discovering a snitch’s identity can be very helpful to the defense. At a minimum, the defense lawyer should contact and attempt to interview the informant. This interview can uncover facts which are helpful to the defense. Furthermore, most informants are rather unsavory characters. Many snitches have rap sheets that read like a roll of toilet paper. If the case against the Defendant is based upon the word of such a rat, the defense may want to call this person as a witness at trial. Putting the snitch on the witness stand may show the jury that they shouldn’t trust the Government’s evidence because of the source. In other words, if they can’t trust the messenger, they can’t trust the message.
Whether or not a criminal defendant can find out who snitched must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. If you’ve been arrested and think a confidential informant may be involved, please call me to discuss your case.
Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney Curt Crowley