Better known for its advocacy on behalf of business and economic growth, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has issued new model Jailhouse Informant Regulations. They require state’s attorneys to keep track of informants who provide information or testimony, to record all benefits promised or given to informants, and to provide full disclosure of an informant’s criminal record, their participation in other cases, and all benefits. Of particular note is how comprehensively the model regulations define the term “benefit”:
“Benefit’ means any plea bargain, bail consideration, reduction or modification of sentence, or any other leniency, immunity, financial payment, reward, or amelioration of current or future conditions of incarceration in return for, or in connection with, the informant’s participation in any information-gathering activity, investigation, or operation, or in return for, or in connection with, the informant’s testimony in the criminal proceeding in which the prosecutor intends to call him or her as a witness.”
The definition recognizes that informant benefits come in many shapes and sizes, from leniency to money to improved conditions of confinement. The definition also recognizes that informants can receive benefits for information-gathering activities even if they are never called to testify. A strong definition is important because it captures the reality that informants are motivated by a wide range of potential rewards which can affect their behavior and reliability.
ALEC’s model regulations are consistent with reforms in other states such as Texas and Florida that are starting to require greater transparency and disclosure regarding informants. They are a great start for other states considering reform. They are also a great sign that the risks of informant use are now firmly part of the mainstream legislative conversation.
From the ALEC website: “The American Legislative Exchange Council is America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.”