Becoming a Confidential Informant to Reduce Drug Charges
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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The decision to serve or not to serve as a confidential informant, sometimes called a snitch, can have serious legal and personal consequences. Before you make a decision to serve, you should know the full range of punishments you are otherwise facing, understand exactly what will be expected of you, and know what you will get in return.
Becoming a Confidential Informant
The decision to inform or not to inform should be based on the advantages and disadvantages of each option. If you have been arrested, but have no prior convictions, you may be eligible for probation. Some law enforcement agencies will frame probation as an advantage, but you should realize that many states have automatic probation provisions for first time drug offenders. If you have had a prior felony conviction, you may be subject to a mandatory enhanced sentence. Understanding the punishment you face will help you determine whether or not you are being offered a good deal for informing.
Expectations of a Confidential Informant
You should also know exactly what is going to be expected of you as a confidential informant. Many defendants think that once the drug deal is done, their role is finished. However, the deal may also require introducing undercover officers to other dealers or having to testify at trial. If you are not comfortable testifying at trial and having your identity exposed, then you may want to reconsider becoming a confidential informant. Make sure that the number of contacts you will need to provide is also specified. How many transactions are you going to have to complete to qualify for favorable treatment?
You should also know what you cannot do while serving as a confidential informant. Many lower level drug dealers are also addicts, but if you become an informant, you will be barred from using or dealing controlled substances. If you are caught either possessing or dealing while you are working as an informant, then the agency can revoke the deal. If you know you cannot refrain from drug use for a few weeks, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
What to Expect in Return if You Become an Informant
Finally, you’ll need to know what you will be getting in return for your services. If you are being offered probation, you may want to ask for more treatment options so that you don’t repeat this situation later. A deal may not only be an opportunity to reduce your charges, but also to get your life back on track. You will also need to know how you will be protected if something goes wrong. If your standing as an informant is discovered, know what the law enforcement agency can and cannot do to protect you. Every agency has access to different resources. Find out what’s available in your jurisdiction.
Many people jump into confidential informant agreements because they are desperate or feel pressured by their situations. Some agreements can help reduce sentences and provide defendants with access to rehab options. On the flip side, an informant agreement can subject a defendant to serious retaliation from the people they testify against. During your conversations with law enforcement officials, you have the right to have an attorney present. Exercise that right. It's extremely important to understand and weigh all of the consequences of becoming a confidential informant.