Confidential Informants in Florida Drug Crime Cases

Police often use confidential informants to bolster criminal investigations, including in drug cases. These sources may have criminal records themselves, and cops’ reliance on informants raises a variety of legal issues. That’s especially true in situations in which the person charged with a crime says the police got the wrong man, as Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals recently pointed out.A defendant was arrested and charged with numerous drug offenses after he allegedly sold hydrocodone and cocaine to an undercover St. Petersburg police officer. A confidential police informant set up the first transaction by contacting his brother. The CI and undercover officers met the brother and a person he introduced as “Dino” at a convenience store. Dino sold the officer Fioricet pills, which he said were hydrocodone. Dino contacted the officer to sell him actual hydrocodone pills two weeks later. It was another five months before the third and final transaction. The officer contacted Dino, who said he didn’t have hydrocodone but sold the officer an eight ball of cocaine instead.

The officer had some trouble finding out the defendant’s true identity. He took the plate number from the brother’s car and found police records from a traffic stop in which the defendant was in the car. He then found a photo of the defendant and identified him as “Dino.” Although the defendant claimed that the officer had found the wrong guy, he was convicted following a trial.

The defendant later asked the trial court to scrap the conviction. He argued that the court should have forced the prosecutors to disclose the identity of the confidential informant. Had he been able to get the CI to testify, he said the informant would have confirmed that he wasn’t the person who sold them the drugs. In response, the State explained that the confidential informant was only present for the first transaction. Even if the CI had testified, prosecutors said the officer still would have told the jury that the defendant was the person who sold him the drugs. That testimony alone would have been enough to secure the conviction, the prosecutors explained. The judge sided with the prosecutors.

The Second District said on appeal that the trial court didn’t properly consider the defendant’s post-conviction request. Instead, the judge “summarily adopted” the prosecutors’ arguments without holding a hearing. “[The defendant] properly alleged that he did not sell the detective any drugs, that the CI arranged the first transaction and was present at the time of the first transaction, and that the CI would have testified that [the defendant] was not present at the transaction and was not the person who sold the drugs,” the Court observed. “Even if the CI could only testify whether [the defendant] was present at the first transaction, such testimony might have discredited the detective’s ability to identify [him] in general.”

As a result, the Second District sent the case back to the trial judge for additional proceedings.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater drug crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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