Using confidential informants can be fraught with challenges. Between guidelines and case law, prosecutors and law enforcement officers have clear benchmarks for using informants while they build their cases.
Join our presenter, Jon Eliason, division chief of the Special Victims Division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, for the webinar “Using Confidential Informants: Courtroom Lessons Learned.” In this webinar, you’ll learn:
- A basic overview of the use of confidential informants.
- The practical implications for the use of CI’s.
- Best practices: what to avoid, what to do.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): You’ve presented about Confidential Informants previously. Can you share with us what the scope of the new webinar is going to be? Could you share some high-level bullet points?
Jon Eliason: We’ll be going over lessons learned from previous confidential informant controversies, including the the LA Grand Jury Investigation, the Confidential Informant Report from the 1980s, and in Orange County the last 3 years or so.
[Based on this historical information,] it’s 2017:
how should prosecutors handle confidential informants?
JCH: You mentioned the recent decision coming out of Orange County. Can you expand on this?
Jon: The California Court of Appeals just came out with another opinion about the whole Orange County [situation] regarding [confidential informants]. In the most recent opinion, Orange County appealed whether they should have been taken off the case. The Court affirmed the recusal for not just the way they didn’t disclose the informant information, but also came down on them for lack of training/knowledge of case law and ethical obligations.
We’ll review a couple of the CI scandals from the late 1980s to 2017 and then talk about [being] a prosecutor in 2017: what do you need to do to protect not just your case, but your license.
JCH: Why would a person want to come to this webinar? What would they gain from this webinar that they could use immediately, tomorrow, at work?
Jon: They’d immediately be able to recognize what their obligations are when using an informant. When you decide to use an informant, these are the obligations you’re signing up for.
JCH: Why is the use of confidential informants such a difficult area for both prosecutors and police? Why is it so fraught with challenges?
Jon: I think, first of all, often it might be the only way to get close to some bad guys, the only way to do that is to use people who are kind of bad people. And if you’re using someone who is a bad person, they might not be as trustworthy as another witness. So, you want to be able to get bad people, it might be that the only way to get them is to use confidential informants, but that comes with some baggage. The Supreme Court has recognized the need for informants… we’re not saying NOT to use informants, we’re just saying you just have to be really careful, and here’s some problems people have had before.
JCH: Do you think there will ever be a time when we won’t have to rely on informants? Or limit their use?
Jon: No, I don’t see how we’d completely avoid ever using informants. What we’re telling people is, just because someone says “hey, I want to inform on somebody,” doesn’t mean we have to run over to the jail and do it. [Think about:] Who is this person? How credible are they? What’s their [criminal record]. Some of these guys have 13-20 felony convictions. Sure, they can tell us [their information] but unless we have corroboration, [your word’s] not worth anything. So you have to look at, is it material? And is there corroboration for it? Otherwise, in today’s climate, people on a grand jury aren’t going to believe someone like that.
To view Confidential Informants: Courtroom Lessons Learned, click here.