Informants are used by law enforcement agencies in drug-related investigations. Informants are essentially criminals involved in the illegal drug trade, and penalizing them while at the same time using them in investigations has proved to be a challenge. Drug laws used in the conviction of drug criminals are also applied with informants, though selectively. Due to provisions such as substantial assistance, safety valve and leniency, informants may have less severe convictions.
Federal and State Laws
Federal laws generally criminalize the possession of illegal substances such marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Chemicals used in the manufacturing of these drugs are also illegal under federal laws. Different states have different laws regarding the possession of illegal substances. Informants and those in possession are convicted on the basis of the type of drug, the amount and the state the offender is in. A person, including an informant, who is found to posses large quantities of illegal drugs is charged with intention to distribute.
Informant law allows for “substantial assistance,” according to section 5K1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Under these guidelines, a judge can issue an informant a lower sentence than he initially qualified for. Substantial assistance means that the informant helps the prosecutor (government) to investigate and convict another drug offender. Substantial assistance can promote leniency, even though the informant himself is involved in the criminal offense of possessing illegal substances.
In the safety valve provision, a court is required by law to disregard the mandatory minimum sentence. The informant is relieved from the actual minimum sentence and serves only a fraction of this sentence. This is especially applicable for offenders who are first-time offenders, were non-violent, and gave truthful information to the government concerning a drug case.
Mandatory Minimum Sentence
The mandatory minimum sentence may also be issued to an informant if the court determines that the informant qualifies. This is mostly determined by the amount of drugs the informant was found to be in possession of. Falsification of information could also lead to a mandatory minimum sentence. Most informants, however, are excluded from the mandatory minimum sentence if they provide truthful, substantial assistance. The Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009 was introduced in Congress to remove mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders. It would also limit the involvement of the federal government in low-level drug cases.