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Is It Illegal to Expose a Confidential Informant?

is it illegal to expose a confidential informant

Building a case against criminals is sometimes not as easy as it seems, especially against organized crime. You will need the help you can get to bring these guys down. So, the police and other similar institutions would sometimes ask someone to become a confidential informant to get some inside information on the inner workings of organized crime.

And while utilizing such people comes with criticism, you can’t deny that confidential informants can be the key to taking down powerful crime lords. With how risky the job is, what would happen if you expose the identity of CI?

Who are Confidential Informants?  

Informants are typically used to take down organized crime and can come from four types of people: someone from the public, police officers, a member of organized crime, or victims. But most are “denizens of the underworld” working with police for something in exchange, like a lower sentence on their case. That is why the job is called “dirty business” by some, with CIs being often called “snitches,” “rats,” “turncoats,” or “cuts from untrustworthy cloth.”

So CI’s will only agree to help if they are sure that officers can keep their identity a secret. And when it comes to taking down the big fish in organized crime, a vast majority of the information received by police officers can come from informants who concealed their identities.

But not everyone who gives information to the authorities is a CI. This privilege is only applicable if the circumstances below exist.

  • Information About A Crime – You must have furnished information about the crime committed.
  • Information To Police – You need to know that you are giving the information to an officer or someone who would pass it to one.
  •  In Confidence – You are providing information “in confidence,” meaning authorities are fulfilling your desire to remain anonymous. Or you believe them to be. This desire is almost always the case since your life could be in danger if your identity gets out to the public. Your identity will also remain anonymous if you provide information on a secret witness hotline. So witnesses and victims of crime who freely give information to police will not become CIs unless they request anonymity.

The Legalities Concerning Confidential Informants

Because of how dangerous the job of being A CI is and the court’s acknowledgment of how vital they are in building a case, officers have the right or “privilege” not to disclose any information regarding a confidential informant. This privilege extends to forms of communication the CI may use which could reveal their identity. 

There are also guidelines handed to authorities to protect a CI’s identity. Unfortunately, those guidelines are only for them. So, if  anyone outside authority reveals the identity of the CI, nothing will happen to them. Except maybe attract attention to themselves for potentially putting the CI’s life in danger.

But the privilege is not absolute because if the court determines that the CI would be a material witness for the case, they will dismiss the privilege of anonymity.

Consequences can be severe if authorities refuse to reveal the material defense witness since they can deny the defendant of a fair trial. Although this rarely happens since most CI testimonies can’t help the defendant. 

But why do defendants still file for this motion? Well, it doesn’t cost that much to file. And if they get lucky, they can confirm who snitched on them. So officers and prosecutors must understand informant-protection laws to know the danger areas and the various options available to protect their CI.

That said, there are factors that the court will consider to determine to expose the identity of a CI. Here are some of them:

  • The rights of the accused on a possible defense
  • If the information provided by the CI can help the defendant’s case
  • If the accused knows who the CI is
  • If the defendant can call the CI as a witness
  • If there is evidence of guilt apart from the informant’s information

There is also a court evaluation to determine the extent of a CI’s involvement in the crime. They can order to disclose their identity if they are a direct witness, involved, or have been once in the criminal activity. 

But if there is evidence other than that of the CI’s information, the court may allow anonymity.

For example, say the police arrested Richard for embezzlement because his accountant John provided information to the police, making John a confidential informant. 

But this tells Richard that the CI was directly involved in the embezzlement. So he argues that he needs to know the identity of the CI to challenge his claims and prove that he falsified evidence against him. Since John’s information is material for the case and is the main source of information against him, the court might reveal who he is. But if John’s information is only one of the pieces of evidence against Richard, then the court might decide not to reveal his identity. 

The Issues of Confidential Informants

You can argue that information from CIs is just hearsay and should not be a reason for police to conduct Search or Arrest Warrants. That is why police have to ensure that the information they are getting is reliable, especially if they are getting it from other criminals. They’ll typically only consider information from these people if they have a record of giving reliable ones in the past. Or have a direct connection to the crime.

Failure to do so can lead to unlawful arrests and ruin the authorities’ reputation. 


Utilizing a confidential informant can be “dirty business.” But it’s hard to deny the vital role they play in taking down organized crime, with people involved in such activities shrouded in secrecy. And the only information you can get is from people who have connections to such, like criminals and hoodlums.

Although you can snitch on who the CI is, you are now potentially putting someone in danger. As the saying goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” Plus, you’d be attracting attention from the authorities. So it would be best to keep your mouth shut and let the judicial process do its thing.

Check out our criminal law category for more relevant articles.

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