A common technique for law enforcement is to use low-level drug offenders as “CIs” or confidential informants to help catch higher level drug dealers and suppliers. Often these cases involve a non-violent offender with little to no criminal history who gets caught with a felony amount of drugs. In Minnesota, a felony amount of marijuana is 42.5 grams or more (a little under an ounce) or any amount of any other illegal drug. After being arrested, but before charging, a detective or drug force task member will speak with the arrestee and offer a deal – “Be a CI and do some “controlled buys” (stings to catch the seller/dealer of a particular drug) and you won’t get charged – this goes away.” But being a CI isn’t just supplying information, it requires actually doing drug deals, often while wearing a wire and being surveilled by police.
I have spoken with many people over the years who have told me a similar story. I’m still saddened to hear this sort of coercion being used to persuade uninformed persons to make such a potentially dangerous decision. You see, the police use the threat of prosecution along with the maximum penalties of anywhere from 5 to 30 years in prison to further persuade the arrestee that there is really no choice but to take the risk and work with them. They hear “felony” and “prison” and think their life is over. The reality is often far, far different. For some, no jail at all and possibly no felony conviction.
The story of Andrew Sadek () is just one reason why it is important for any person in his position to talk to an attorney before making any decisions about becoming a CI. Andrew was a 20 year old college student in North Dakota who got busted for selling a small amount of marijuana on campus to another CI. He was arrested and threatened with up to 40 years in prison. He was offered an escape-goat, become a CI and the felonies can likely go away. After doing a few controlled buys with the drug task force, Andrew’s body was found in a river, one gun shot wound to the head. Over a year later it is still undetermined as to whether it was suicide or murder. The case remains unsolved. The video of the drug task force officer recruiting Andrew can be seen on the “ Justice for Andrew Sadak” Facebook page.
Without getting into a discussion on the moral and ethical implications of these tactics with such uninformed and terrified individuals there are a few things that must be remembered: Police are not lawyers, they are not there to help get a person out of trouble, they are trying to do their job and they are willing to use any resources they can to do it. CIs are very valuable and make prosecution of drug dealers and suppliers much easier. The police need CIs and they will use whatever tactics necessary to try to persuade someone to work for them. But, it is not the police’s job to look out for the person and their best interests. Often times the police will want these “controlled buys” to involve larger quantities than the person usually buys or harder drugs so that they can get to the more dangerous and connected guys and either arrest them or turn them into CIs. This change in behavior can also put a CI at risk of being found out – endangering their life. The police are using a CI to further their goal, nothing more. Either they are useful or they are not and the police officer is the one that gets to determine that and how many “buys” buys them their freedom.
That is why, before making any decision, a person should consult with an attorney to assess their situation and potential consequences. An attorney can not only provide advice, but also be an advocate and protector of the person if he or she decides to work with the police. An attorney can make sure that the terms of the arrangement are set and abided by, and precautions are taken to ensure the safety of the CI as much as possible. CIs are essentially performing undercover police work. It is dangerous. Before taking the risk a person must be fully informed about their options and the situation.