Police and Their Informers
- January 23, 2012
- Andrew Barbacki
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News of the arrest of a retired Montreal police officer for offering information identifying confidential informers to organized crime figures caused quite a stir in the law enforcement community as well as in the Montreal criminal underworld.
This is understandable given the importance of inside information to the success of criminal investigations and the crucial need to keep the sources of such information confidential in order for them to survive in their criminal milieu.
Criminal lawyers are obliged to respect the strong privilege the courts attach to the identity of confidential informers. Thus, as an exception to the constitutional right of a criminal defendant to receive full disclosure of the prosecution’s evidence, any information even tending to identify a confidential informant is withheld from the defence. Only in the rare instance where it is shown the informer might actually have been present during the commission of the alleged offence and could therefore have evidence potentially exonerating the defendant – the so called “innocence at stake exception” – can the prosecution be obliged to reveal their identity. In these rare instances the state invariably drops the case rather than jeopardize the safety of the informer.
News of the apparent suicide of the allegedly corrupt former officer wasn’t surprising to members of the criminal justice community given the animosity his treachery undoubtedly aroused in diverse factions of the criminal justice community.