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Do I Have the Right to Know the Identity of the “Confidential Information” Who Told the Police I Have Drugs?

Houston-area law enforcement often use “confidential informants” to identify suspects in drug crimes cases. Under the Rules of Evidence governing criminal trials in Texas, prosecutors may refuse to disclose the identity of such informants to the defendant. But the defendant may ask a judge to compel disclosure if there is a “reasonable probability” that the informant “can give testimony necessary to a fair determination of guilt or innocence.”

Appeals Court Upholds Conviction, 30-Year Sentence in Cocaine Case

Judges have wide discretion to grant or deny such requests, however, and it is difficult for a defendant to challenge decisions that go against them. Consider this recent drug case from San Antonio. In this case, a local sheriff’s deputy said he “received information from a confidential informant” that a man–later identified as the defendant–was “selling narcotics” from a local motel room.

The sheriff’s office proceeded to conduct about a day’s worth of surveillance on the motel room in question. They did not observe the defendant or witness any drug transactions during this time. But officers did identify the defendant’s car in the parking lot.

The deputies proceeded to obtain a search warrant for the hotel room. During this time, an officer observed the defendant leaving the hotel room “several times,” in one instance placing an item “wrapped in a plastic bag” into the trunk of his car.

The officers proceeded to execute their search warrant. There were other people–a woman and several children–besides the defendant in the room itself. The search uncovered a plastic bag of cocaine and a gun hidden above the ceiling tiles in the bathroom. A deputy also saw what he described as “a little tool” designed to retrieve the bag, which he proceeded to use.

Deputies also recovered a glass measuring cup from the trunk of the defendant’s car. This was important, prosecutors later asserted at the defendant’s trial, because such cups are commonly used to convert regular cocaine into “crack” cocaine.

Prosecutors also said the defendant was legally in possession of the cocaine found in the bathroom. But as there were other people in the room–none of whom were charged–the prosecution also had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was some affirmative “link” between the defendant and the drugs. Among other things, officers cited the tip from their confidential informant as one piece of evidence creating this link. The jury ultimately found the defendant guilty of possessing between 4 and 200 grams of cocaine, sentencing him to 30 years in prison.

But during the trial, prosecutors never disclosed the informant’s identity to the defense. And neither the trial court nor the Court of Appeals saw any problem with this. As the Court of Appeals explained, the burden of proof is on the defendant to show the informant’s testimony “would significantly aid his defense.” But here, the court found the defendant only offered “conjecture or speculation” as to how the informant’s testimony would help him. The Court said there was plenty of other evidence linking the defendant to the cocaine, including the fact he was living in the motel room where the drugs were found, he had a glass measuring cup, and there was other drug paraphernalia located in the room itself.

Contact a Houston Drug Defense Attorney Today

In any drug case it is imperative to confront all of the evidence against you. An experienced Houston drug crimes defense lawyer can assist you in making sure prosecutors and trial judges do not run roughshod over your rights. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 today if you have been charged with possession of illegal narcotics and require immediate legal assistance.