Hamptons Legal – The Daily Detail

News, Service & Small Practice Management

Informant v Defendant

Posted by pbsweeney on May 22, 2007

Say you’re a criminal defense lawyer with a client facing charges as a result of information provided by an informant who has agreed to work with law enforcement as part of his own plea arrangement in a criminal case. Naturally, you want to know something about this informant in preparing a defense for your client. Armed with the informant’s name and criminal record, you start researching the disposition of his previous arrests. With the ready availability of court records online, wading through files is made somewhat easier. But imagine for a minute, if details of the informant’s plea arrangements were sealed or unavailable – where does that leave you?

The New York Times reports today that “…the Justice Department has begun urging the federal courts to make fundamental changes in public access to electronic court files by removing all plea agreements from them — whether involving cooperating witnesses or not.

“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.”

Could we please solve this problem in a manner that does not trample the civil rights of the entire citizenry by denying access to public record? And by the way, we really wish the Justice Department was as interested in protecting the privacy of the rest of us.

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