Lately, we have been receiving several inquires as to whether someone who is accused of a crime has a right to know the identity of an anonymous informant or tipster. Generally, the answer is no, there is no right or privilege to know the identity of an anonymous informant or tipster.
In Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957), the Supreme Court recognized the Government’s privilege to not reveal the identity of a tipster who provides information of criminal activities to law enforcement officials. The privilege of remaining anonymous is done in an effort to encourage citizens in communicating knowledge of the commission of crimes to law enforcement.
However, there are times when the tipster’s identity should be disclosed to the defendant such as when their identity or the contents of their communication is relevant and helpful to the defense or is essential to a fair determination of a cause. Whether the disclosure is justified will depend on the specific circumstances of each case. The court will take into consideration what crime is being charged, any possible defenses, the significance of the informant’s testimony, as well as any other relevant factors. In United States v. Sharp, 778 F.2d 1882, 1886 (6th Cir. 1992), the Court held that the defendant has the burden of showing in what way the disclosure of the informant’s identity will “substantively assist his defense.”
This is only a brief overview of the issue of informant and tipster identity. If you have been accused of a crime in which the identity of an informant or tipster is at issue, or would like more information regarding this issue, call our office to speak with one of our highly experienced attorney’s at (269) 373-5430.