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Are Confidential Informants Credible? 5 Factors Courts Will Consider

Confidential informants ("CIs") often provide law enforcement and prosecutors with valuable evidence that can lead to arrests and even convictions of criminal suspects.

However, very few CIs have a clean criminal record, and many of them are "flipped" by law enforcement to avoid harsher punishment for their own crimes. So how can a court find a CI's testimony to be credible?

There must be some legal guarantee that a CI's info is good. Here are five common factors courts will consider in judging the credibility of a confidential informant:

1. Is a Confidential Informant Truthful?

This factor is formally called "veracity," and is used by courts to determine if a CI has a reputation for telling the truth. (The capacity for telling lies is called "mendacity," in case you were wondering.) Unlike with anonymous tipsters, law enforcement and prosecutors typically have evidence that their CI has lied or been forthright with them and others. Evidence from CIs who have been busted for fraud or other crimes involving lying may be given less weight.

2. Basis of the Informant's Knowledge.

Since a CI won't be called to testify, the basis of his or her knowledge may not be directly tested in court. Thus, a court needs some basis for a CI's allegations. A simple he-said-she-said backed up with no observations won't be worth much in court.

3. Reliability.

Evidence that a CI has reliably provided accurate information in the past may indicate to the court that he or she is credible. A relatively untested CI, with no resulting arrests or convictions, may be less likely to be believed.

4. Corroboration.

Law enforcement will often corroborate a CI's information with consistent observations by officers. If the CI's reports are consistent with other reports by third parties, it will increase a CI's credibility in court.

5. Degree of Specificity.

A CI reporting that he heard a suspect may commit "a crime... sometime" is far less credible than a detailed account of the future crime's elements, those involved, and descriptions of the locations and vehicles involved. The more specific and detailed, the more likely a court is to accept a CI's information.

Keep in mind that courts often determine whether to accept a confidential informant's evidence as credible based on the totality of the circumstances in that case -- which may include other factors not listed here. If you have questions about how a confidential informant may affect your case, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.

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