An editorial in yesterday’s Newark Star-Ledger points to the murky role played by confidential informants in countless criminal cases across the state and the country. New Jersey has few rules governing the use of confidential informants in police investigations or in court. And while informants can help investigations, secret incentives like reduced sentences – or even cash – can lead to false testimony. At least 15 percent of the 272 wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date involved informant testimony at the trial level.
A report released last month by the New Jersey ACLU calls on the New Jersey Attorney General to “issue specific, detailed and mandatory policies” governing use of informants by all law enforcement agencies in the state.
From the Star-Ledger editorial:
Each year, thousands of offenders provide all levels of law enforcement with information in order to save themselves. Sometimes, the information is reliable. Often, it’s not.
And while the ACLU report details how police can abuse informants, who often create fiction to get the deal they want or just to get cops off their backs, the real victims are the courts. Sometimes, innocent people get railroaded, and bad guys, because of shady witnesses, go free.