Private Investigation Tools - What is an Informant?

By: beyli

What is an informant?

An informant is a person who cooperates by providing information during an investigation. He

might be a witness or a participant in a particular case under investigation. Many times, an

informant receives monetary compensation or other benefit for his information.

Just like interviewing witnesses, working with informants requires that the private investigator

establish a level of rapport with him. Informants usually have a motive to help you out besides the

rapport you have established with them. This may include becoming a private investigator

themselves. Good natured kidding around about "putting them on your payroll" may feed their

need to live an exciting life of a private investigator through yours.

Dismiss what you see on TV about law enforcement and informants. The tough-cop persona of

grabbing the informant by the ears, slamming him to the ground, and expecting him to work for

you is nothing but pure fiction. A criminal or private investigator should never refer to an informant

as a "snitch." It is considered a derogatory term. If you view your informant in derogatory terms,

your actions, demeanor, and tone of voice when speaking to him will contravene your true

intentions. The informant will see your condescending attitude and will less likely work for you.

When should a private investigator use an informant?

An informant can simply be a neighbor of a subject in a domestic case under surveillance who

will inform you when the subject comes home. This informant may contact you when your

client's wife, who is supposed to be getting her hair done, just showed up for a date with her lover

at a restaurant next door to the hairdresser's shop. To keep this informant motivated to talk to

you, the private investigator, you must build a rapport with the informant as discussed earlier.

The chances are that the two neighbors have some sort of trivial dispute. It could be something

like your subject stealing your informant's morning paper only to return it the next morning and

stealing the following day's paper. Whatever the reason may be, the informant is probably getting

even with your subject through you.

Are you allowed to pay informants?

Money and informants go together like a hand that fits a glove. You are allowed to perform favors

for or compensate them for information. The exception is that if the informant is a potential

witness in a case, you should never pay any amount of money to an informant. By doing so, you

create a conflict of interest. A witness may suggest that you pay him a little extra money so that

his recollection of information might improve. After all, the testimony of your informant may save

your client, an insurance company, tons of money. Therefore, you can not pay an informant who

is a potential witness.

If a private investigator did compensate a witness, then the testimony the witness gives may be

inadmissible in court. On television shows, you might see witnesses who are paid. In reality, do

not do it. On the other hand, the story is different for police and criminal cases. Police can pay

informants because criminal cases go by different rules than civil cases.

In civil cases, this is nothing more embarrassing than to lose a case in court and possibly a

good client by paying a potential witness in a civil case. Simply do NOT do this. The exception

to this rule is the "expert" witness whom you CAN pay.

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