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State College Marijuana Investigations - Reliance on Informants

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In State College, many felony marijuana delivery and possession with intent to deliver investigations rely heavily upon information being provided from informants. In a recent blog, I discussed how a State College DUI investigation had started based upon information that was provided to the police by a concerned citizen. There is a clear distinction between information being provided by a concerned citizen in the DUI case and information being provided by an informant in the felony drug delivery investigations. Informants are often people that are facing criminal charges and agree to cooperate with the police in exchange for more lenient treatment.

While some informants are credible and trustworthy, others are willing to do whatever it takes, including lying to the police, in order to obtain a better deal. Some informants learn the error of their ways, reform their behavior, and seek to mitigate or reduce the punishment that they are facing by cooperating with the police. Other informants claim to be cooperating with law enforcement while they continue their drug dealing ways.

State College Drug Dealing Informant

A few years ago, I represented a client in a State College drug delivery case in which the informant that set up my client had previously sold heroin to my client, and the informant not only continued to use heroin but also continued to deal heroin while working as an informant for the police. The State College police were not aware of the informant's ongoing criminal activity until the informant got  drunk and passed out in State College. The informant actually had a substantially large quantity of heroin on him when he passed out, and that discovery led to additional felony charges of Possession With Intent to Deliver Heroin being filed against the informant

The informant had been cooperating because he was facing felony drug delivery charges for two separate State College drug delivery incidents. As we proceeded towards trial in our heroin delivery case, we knew that the jury would be scrutinizing the testimony of the informant that had three separate sets of felony drug charges against him, and the informant's testimony was critical to the prosecution's case against our client. The new charges against the informant would clearly cause a jury to scrutinize, and quite possibly reject, the informant's testimony. In my opinion, the informant's credibility issues and the high likelihood that the jury would simply not like the informant caused the district attorney to modify the previously issued plea offer. Ultimately, my client pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of drug possession as opposed to a felony charge of drug delivery.

"Controlled Buys" - Informants Purchase Drugs from Target

In State College, many marijuana delivery charges stem from an informant purchasing marijuana from a person while be supervised by the police. These purchases of marijuana under the direction of law enforcement are commonly called "controlled buys." The State College police routinely conduct controlled  buys as part of their felony drug delivery investigations. The police also use statements from the informants to obtain search warrants that allow the police to search the residences of the drug dealer's home or car.

Drug delivery defense attorneys know that the weakest portion of a State College drug investigation is the information being provided by the informant. The police are also well aware of a case's weak points, so the police attempt to use investigative tactics to reduce the reliance on the informant's testimony. For example, the police often try to have the drug delivery occur in the presence or within the view of the police. This tactic allow a police officer testify that that he or she actually observed the hand-to-hand transaction of the drug. The State College police have also begun using video and audio recording devices that are placed on the informant in drug delivery investigations. The recordings can then be used in court to supplement or confirm the testimony of the informant. The more the police are able to corroborate or confirm that statements being provided by the informant, the stronger the case against the target for marijuana delivery.

2 Comments

The case is one where police used three controlled buys in an apartment, then conducted a search warrant and obtained cash and around a half pound of marijuana. Out of curiosity, if an informant smoked with their alleged dealer during a controlled buy would this terminate credibility in the case? Also, could public tweets on the informant's twitter which reference current drug use also help the defendant's case?

As a State College criminal defense lawyer since 2004, I have heard many accusations from clients that the confidential informant that conducted the controlled buy or set them up was using marijuana or other drugs the while cooperating with the police. First, drug use by the informant does not mean that the informant has no credibility or that the charges must be dismissed. Drug use by the informant would be a very good defense issue as it would clearly reduce the credibility of the informant. Generally speaking, evidence of the informant's drug use would be admissible at a trial as such use would impair the informant's ability to perceive and recall events accurately. Years ago, I represented a Penn State that had been set up on a heroin delivery. Days or weeks after buying from my client, the informant passed out in downtown State College and was found to be in possession of 98 bags of heroin. It was clear that the informant was continuing to use and sell drugs while cooperating with the police. While my client's delivery was observed by two seasoned drug detectives, the prosecution realized that the informant's issues called the case into doubt and thereby changed the plea offer from a felony charge of delivery to a misdemeanor offense of possession. This case was an example that drug use by the informant does not automatically result in a dismissal of the charges, but it is a great factor for the defense.

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