The state’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors had no obligation to confirm for a defendant that his victim in a shooting was a confidential informant, in a ruling that offers further protection to those who cooperate with police.
The Supreme Judicial Court, overturning a lower court judge’s decision in a Boston case, unanimously rejected the defense’s assertion that the status of the victim factored into the defendant’s “state of mind” when he committed what he said was an act of self-defense.
Jessie Jordan of Boston said he was fearful that his cousin was an informant and would be protected by authorities when his cousin arrived at his house in October 2010 to collect a debt. Jordan allegedly shot his cousin seven times after a brief argument.
The high court found that Jordan had not shown enough evidence demonstrating that he believed his cousin was an informant before the shooting, noting that the only evidence was an affidavit his lawyer submitted after the shooting stating that Jordan and his family “are fearful of the alleged victim ‘since he is protected by the police.’ ”
The court also found the affidavit did little to support the self-defense claim, noting that a defendant raising such an assertion would have to prove that the use of deadly force was the last resort he had in defending himself.
“Nothing in Jordan’s submission to the Superior Court adequately demonstrated that the alleged victim’s informant status had any bearing on the elements of self-defense,” the court said in its ruling Wednesday, adding that evidence rules do “not require a prosecutor to make defense-directed inquiries of independent witnesses, including complainants.” The court did not indicate whether Jordan’s cousin was a confidential informant.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, whose office is prosecuting the case, welcomed the ruling, saying that the use of confidential informants is a crucial tool for investigating violent crimes and that the identification of informants puts them in fear or even at risk of retribution.
“That’s why we take every step possible to protect those who share their tips with us,” Wark said, noting his office has even terminated cases that could jeopardize an informant’s safety.
“The court has long recognized our right to protect the identities of citizens who provide information to police when it’s not material to a defense, and it’s done so again here,” Wark said. “This is a good ruling for law enforcement, for public safety, and for those who provide information to police.”
Jordan’s lawyer, Eduardo Masferrer of Boston, said he was disappointed by the ruling.
“We felt that we did show enough evidence to require the Commonwealth to confirm our belief that the person who came to Mr. Jordan’s house to harm him had worked as a confidential informant for the police,” he said.
Masferrer said that he may file a new request in Superior Court asking for the information and would better document Jordan’s belief and fear that his cousin was an informant.
In some earlier cases, the Supreme Judicial Court has allowed defendants to find out whether a victim or witness in the case is a confidential informant. Just last month, the court upheld an order requiring prosecutors in a drug dealing case to confirm whether a certain individual was a confidential informant in the case.
The defendant, Cynthia Ellis, had argued that a certain person had aggressively tried to get her to sell drugs and that he left heroin at her house just moments before police arrived to execute a search warrant. Ellis had successfully argued that a confirmation that the man was an informant would be crucial to her entrapment defense.