Thursday, July 19, 2007

Congress should restrict criminal informant use to prevent wrongful convictions, police corruption

As a federal oversight committee hearing scheduled today in Washington D.C. reviews police practices involving confidential informants, I thought I'd link to a few key resources and past Grits posts outlining problems with informant use. One source analyzing recent DNA-based exonerations found that inaccurate informant testimony accounted for 31% of wrongful convictions. According to a Government Accountability Office report a few years back, informant use is a major source of police corruption:
federal officials opined that corruption was more likely to result from day-to-day contacts between police officers and informants
Other states have moved further toward addressing this problem; e.g., see recommendations from California for new restrictions on testimony by jailhouse informants.

In case any Congressional staff want to follow up on issues raised at today's hearing, these past Grits posts and the links therein might be a good place to start:


JT Barrie said...

Use of informants gives police incentives to protect their sources from prosecution - while sources engage in criminal activities. This is similar to the "good vs bad drugs" or the dangerous drugs mythology. Criminals are criminals and drugs are drugs. There should not be an arbitrary distinction.
Secondly, an informant has a competitive advantage over other criminals in that he/she can turn in rivals to police - using police instead of other gang members/colleagues to win territory and influence in criminal business. This is also similar to big tycoons using police to intimidate labor unions - a practice that was common in the nineteenth and even the early twentieth century. Reagan even used federal force to break up the flight controllers union. This amounts to an abuse of governmental power in private - although illegal. Of course, we choose sides in battles between criminals in other countries all the time. We bankrolled Islamic terrorists against Milosevic in Serbia only recently.

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