The Orange County District Attorney’s Office recently came under fire after it was discovered that prosecutors were using a secret program in which law enforcement would place informants in jail cells with defendants in order to convince them to unwittingly give up information that could be used against them in their cases. In some cases, the prosecution failed to turn over information to the defendants’ lawyers about the informants’ past work with police agencies, denying the defense a chance to call into question the credibility of the informants.
This unfair practice has drawn the attention of California lawmakers, who have proposed a new law that limits the incentives district attorneys can offer informants.
Paying for Information
Current law allows law enforcement or corrections officers to give informants $50 for their testimony, as well as incentives such as more lenient or reduced sentences, credit for good behavior, or a reduction of the charges against the informant.
However, the law placed no limit on the amount that could be paid to an informant for the information they provide toward the investigation of a suspected crime, which means that all the work prior to an informant’s actual court testimony can be compensated at an unlimited amount. For example, two members of the Mexican Mafia, Raymond “Puppet” Cuevas and Jose “Bouncer” Paredes, received a combined total of over $335,000 cash and other perks for providing information on dozens of cases over a span of four years.
A new law, Assembly Bill 359, is attempting to change that. While this bill would allow law enforcement to pay informants up to $100 per case, it would also apply to any information they provide during the investigation phase. The law would apply to members of any “prosecution entity,” which means the cap would no longer apply just to law enforcement or corrections officers. Prosecutors would still be able to offer incentives to informants, but the unlimited flow of cash would be cut off if this bill becomes law.
Currently, AB 359 has passed the Committee on Public Safety, which means the full assembly is set to take up the debate and vote on the bill in the next few months. Continue reading →