Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Florida bill would give informants legal counsel

As Texas considers bills to corroborate and ensure reliability of jailhouse informant testimony, I was interested to see that bipartisan legislation moving in Florida takes a different tack on regulating confidential informants. Reports AP:

The proposed bill would create strict standards on the use of confidential informants and give them the right to talk to an attorney before agreeing to help police.

It would not allow people in drug treatment programs to be used in undercover drug operations.

Plus, the plan would prevent a nonviolent offender from being involved in any undercover operation involving weapons or suspects with violent criminal records.

The actual Florida legislation - HB 271/SB 604 - is sponsored by Republicans in both chambers but has bipartisan support. See the original filed version and the negotiated substitute bill that cleared committee. Among provisions dropped at the demand of law enforcement was a requirement for "prosecutors to approve the use of an informant."

Even so, the negotiated version is still much stronger than Texas' law, including a requirement that potential informants have "an opportunity to consult with legal counsel upon request before the person agrees to perform any activities as a C.I." The Florida bill also includes expanded internal reporting and supervisory requirements when informants are used and requires each law enforcement agency to develop policies conforming to the law.

Interesting to see how other states are confronting these issues. Though Texas' informant-related bills in 2009 focus on jailhouse snitches, one need look no further than popular culture - evidenced by the forthcoming silver-screen depiction of snitch-based false drug convictions in Hearne - to know that Texas faces similar problems to those that inspired Florida's legislation with informants caught up in the drug war.

No comments: