The police in Durham, North Carolina have been paying confidential informants not only for their testimony but giving them an extra bonus payment if the person they testify against is convicted. This is a rather blatant violation of the rules under Supreme Court precedent.
For 10 years, DPD has offered extra money to undercover informants willing to testify in court and cooperate in drug cases. However, those incentives were offered without the knowledge of prosecutors or defendants. This new revelation could prompt the review of more than two-dozen closed cases. Many of the defendants involved in those cases were imprisoned or scheduled for deportation.
The bonuses were discovered through public records requests made by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham-based civil rights nonprofit.
Police payouts to informants are commonly disclosed. But several Durham attorneys say they were unaware of pre-arranged bonuses.
“[T]he D.A.’s office was not aware of any agreement to pay confidential informants at the completion of cases,” said Assistant District Attorney Roger Echols in an email last month to Ian Mance, a lawyer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We were also not aware of, if there were any, payments to confidential informants for bonuses. If we had that information or known it existed we would have provided it to the defendant in discovery.”
The Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, entitles defendants to all evidence the government plans to enter against them during the discovery, or pre-trial phase, of a case. This includes evidence showing state witnesses have a financial stake in their cooperation.
“Clearly this is a Brady violation,” said Donald H. Beskind, a Duke University law professor and defense attorney.
When it comes to the use of informants, this is just barely the tip of the corrupt iceberg. The police routinely shake down informants, coercing them to sign affidavits and testify against people with the threat of busting them. The most famous case of this was in Atlanta when the police killed an elderly woman named Kathryn Johnston after planting drugs on an informant to coerce him into signing an affidavit saying he’d bought drugs at her house.