Rest of the Story

In Josh Francis’ Forum News Service story, Sadek’s Mother Pushes for Law Restricting Using College-aged Informants, the tragic news that North Dakota State College of Science student, and drug informant, Andrew Sadek was killed (although the autopsy results make suicide just as likely a cause of his death as murder), the grieving mother is pushing for a new state law prohibiting the use of “college students” as informants by law enforcement.

Pat Merriman

By Pat Merriman

Dunn Co. State’s Attorney

“Now she wants North Dakota to adopt a law similar to one on the books in Florida that would prevent police from using informant work as a bargaining chip to get a lighter sentence.” The so-called Rachel’s Law is codified at Section 914.28 of the Florida Code and, essentially, does LESS than what our local, written Informant’s Agreements already do and, have been doing, since 2012 out here in the oil patch.

Since becoming a “drug czar” for the first time in 1989, any drug unit with which I’ve been affiliated has refused to allow anyone to act as an informant (confidential or otherwise), in any capacity, unless they first sign a written agreement which spells out exactly what are the risks, benefits, obligations and duties of the suspect, law enforcement and the prosecutor. In other words, local law enforcement is already doing exactly what Florida is seeking to control by statute but, much more. Each informant is informed of his/her Miranda rights, that only the States Attorney can agree to make a recommendation on leniency and only a District Judge can grant it, no one can predict what type of leniency our office will recommend and, it is based solely on a case-made basis of criminals who are worse than the cooperating informant. Further, each informant is told exactly what they can, or cannot do, while working solely at the direction of law enforcement and that includes carrying a gun, having sex with, or coercing, a target or using illegal drugs. They are also specifically informed of the risks attached to being an informant. And, finally, case agents are personally trained to make sure that they understand the dangers and benefits of using C/I’s as well as adopting policies to make sure that there are no misunderstandings. The form gets updated each time there is a new court opinion that changes any of these rules.

Missing the mark is this grieving mother’s analysis of Rachel’s Law, which, specifically, does NOT prohibit the use of college-aged informants, “We need to get some new laws in place where they can’t use these kids to do their (the police) jobs.” First, using the phrase “kids” to describe 19-to-24-year-olds is simply not accurate. That is precisely the age group of Americans who are using, and dying from, the heroin, methamphetamine and prescription pain killer abuse epidemic in this country. They are not “kids”, they are young men and women who are engaging in high risk behavior which has deadly affects not only for them but, the victims of their drug-seeking/dealing behavior. Second, “juveniles” could never be allowed to be informants in North Dakota, or anywhere else of which I’m aware, anyway simply because of the Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction over them. And, no responsible law enforcement agency would EVER use them in that role, specifically, because of the dangers of being a “snitch”.

Third, no one “bullies” anyone into being an informant. 35 years of personal experience demonstrates to me that once they are caught, these folks literally BEG to sell out their own kind to save their own skins. It’s their defining characteristic … they would sell their own mother to keep using illegal drugs and save their own backsides. Fourth, curiously missing from this rhetoric is the fact that North Dakota already HAS a statute dealing with a specific class of even adults who require judicial approval to be an informant and, in my humble opinion, creates the greatest risk facing these individuals. Section 12.1-32-07(9) of the Century Code requires that any defendant who is on probation in this state, and who wants to assist law enforcement as an informant, must get a court order (from the judge who sentenced him/ her) BEFORE they can help. The “protection” for the informant is that the court must hold a “hearing in camera” (closed to the public but on the record) and the court order, as well as any pleadings and the transcript, “must be sealed and is subject to inspection only upon order of the court.”

The problem? In small, rural communities, everyone knows everyone else’s business. Court clerks, employees, visitors and even non-narcotics, law enforcement personnel create, exponentially, the risk posed to C/I’s because too many people are involved in the process. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin—once two people know a secret, it’s no longer a secret. And, the more people involved in running an informant, no matter how well-intentioned or competent, exponentially increases the danger that the bad guys find out about the C/I’s cooperation. And, simply showing up at a courthouse with a drug agent anywhere else in the building, is food for the fertile mind of a drug dealer who is paranoid by nature. Hence, why North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, as well as North Dakota law enforcement, opposes this novel, new idea to “expand” the protection afforded drug informants who have not yet been placed on probation.

Mrs. Sadek, I am genuinely sorry for the loss of your son, whether by murder or suicide, it’s always a tragedy when a young life is lost. However, I can only repeat what I have told every jury I have ever faced in an illegal drug case, “If I could put choir boys up here to tell you the story, I would. Unfortunately, these informants are the only people with whom this drug dealer would interact. You are known by the company you keep.” And, at the end of the day, if the North Dakota Legislature were to buy into this proposal to EXPAND Rachel’s Law to prohibit the use of college students as informants, per se, you can rest assured that just like “gun free zones” being translated into “free fire zones” by criminals; “No college-aged C/I’s” will translate as “free drug sale zones” on our college campuses and in our communities. I wish I had better news.

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