Should there be stricter requirements for confidential informants in North Dakota?

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, (R) Dickinson and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke with us about House Bill 1221 and confidential informants in North Dakota.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

(Please note - this transcript was copied from an electronic captioning service. We apologize for any errors, spelling, grammatical, or otherwise.)

Chris Berg:
Tonight we're talking about what is being dubbed as Andrew sat okay's law.

I'm Chris berg, welcome to point of view. I’m Chris berg.

Many of you are aware of the story. There’s a bill going through the legislature that's looking to improve how we can better protect the safety of confidential informants.one of the original things by the house is make sure that a potential confidential informant would be notified of their right to some form of legal counsel. Scrubbed from the version of the senate bill.

I want to share with you why I believe this aspect of the bill is important.

I want to share with you two examples of confidential informants.

First how potential penalties were explained to Andrew Sadek.

This sounds light or soft in this clip, so if you can, turn up to hear it well.

VIDEO
Jason Weber:

There are $25,000 fine. Potentially the max is 40 years in prison, $40,000 fine, do you understand that.it is possible you'll get prison time. If you don't help yourself out --
END VIDEO

CB:
In case you couldn't hear that. Jason Webber just said to Andrew, who is a first time offender there is a good possibility you'll get prison time. He went on to say yes, if you don't help yourself out, obviously meaning if you don't become a CI. This is a second example, how matt sanders remember his conversation with Officer Jason Webber about potentially becoming a ci and what ultimately happened to him.

VIDEO
Matt Sander:

He kept repeating, this is the only time you can save yourself. And I’m, like, I still don't know what you're talking about, I’d like to speak to a lawyer. And he's like a lawyer cannot help you right now. Two years’ probation and I think with court fees about $800 in court fines.
END VIDEO

CB:
Andrew Sadek did not have legal counsel and he is no longer with us today. Matt sanders did have legal counsel and as you can see there, is alive and well. With us tonight to talk about Andrew’s bill is the chairman of the senate judiciary committee, Kelly Armstrong. He has worked with cis in the past.

Senator Armstrong, thank you for being with us, sir. The most obvious question is why did you gut this bill, essentially.it was eight pages originally, came out with two.

Sen. Kelly Armstrong:
Well, I think at the end of the day the first thing you have to remember is the two biggest ways that large amounts of drugs are seized off the streets of north Dakota are typically in a traffic stop or typically in an executed search warrant. The executed search warrant almost always involve somebody dealing with law enforcement. The bill that came to us was eight pages long, incredibly detailed in statute. What we did is put it in the -- when we did these things we know full well we will work in a conference committee and come to some grounds in the middle that provides protection for confidential informants but allows law enforcement to utilize the tools they need to get large amounts of drugs off the street.

CB:
You keep alluding to getting large amounts of drugs off the street. I’ll share with you, in the last 18 months in North Dakota alone we've seen an incredible amount of opioid deaths, increase in heroin, over a thousand percent. How are CIs helping to get large amounts of drugs off the streets?

KA:
Any time you see an executed search warrant that seizes a large amount of drugs you can almost guarantee there was information that was provided to them. There’s a couple things. I think what we're really trying to attack here are confidential informants working for law enforcement, either through negotiating to get a reduced sentence or professional confidential informant so to speak being paid for their services. The bill, while it dealt with those, also dealt with anybody who was providing information to law enforcement. That can be incredibly problematic if you don't have strict guidelines in place.

CB:
Most people will he appreciate that. Looks like to me, this is what I want to get to, you take an eight page bill, gut it down to two, completely different. You and I both know it will go to conference committee, not much could happen. Especially because you're an attorney, why not make simple changes to the amendment.one thing you gutted was right to legal counsel. Shouldn’t these people have right of notification to legal counsel.

KA:
Yeah, and by the time we get through the end of the bill that will be part of the arrangement. I should tell you -- also, when we accepted the amendments in committee, it was made abundantly clear to me and other people involved that this is a starting point, not an ending point. But what we need is a bill to move forward, have the votes to pass, put together a package that makes sense for law enforcement, defense attorneys, prosecutors and the people being asked to work as law enforcement confidential informants.

It talks about the bureau of criminal investigation writing these rules and how CI's are going to be used. Why is law enforcement such a strong proponent of using CIs and why should law enforcement write these rules, especially after loss of life of a fellow North Dakotan. Again, I would say, they're dealt with in one of two ways, traffic stops, quite frankly, where a lot of drugs are sneeze seized, you should have proper tags, and executed through information, not coming from law enforcement, but somebody involved in the drug trade. We want to make sure those are protected. Administrative rules are better place to deal with micromanaging with these things, it still has some legislative oversight.one of the things that needs to end up, which wasn't in the original bill, is a remedy, and/or a remedy for what happens if you violate those rules and also making sure confidential informants know what kind of benefit they could possibly receive from being a confidential informant we wanted to give them a right to notification of legal counsel. What are some other items you'll put back in the bill in conference committee.

One of the things I’d like to see -- any time somebody wears a wire and goes to work, there should be a written agreement.one of the things i think should be required in the written agreement is the length of time, either in the amount of act the confidential informant is required to use or the length of time the agreement is valid.one of the things you see sometimes and you want to make sure is everybody walking in on the front end understand.

CB:
Before anybody goes to work for law enforcement. >

It's imperative. Are you going to train these CIs? Have you seen the video, the whole thing, senator?

KA:
I have seen some of it, I don't know if I’ve seen the whole thing. The bigger issue --

CB:
Let me share with you why I’m asking about the training. There’s a point in the interview. Busted for $40 in we had.at one point Jason Webber says if you do this, reduce your sentence, then we can have you go sell meth for $200 a sale. I don't know this, but from what I’ve seen from television, breaking bad, meth seems like an entirely different world than weed and we're not training these people.

I think actually at the end of the day is we need uniform training of law enforcement.

I'm talking about training of ci.

KA:
Training the cis, I would say I mean, there's two different kinds of ci is that work these places. These are young adults that get caught up in this stuff. The other kind of ci, how that works, I’ve dealt with both of these numerous times in my legal career, is the professional ci, guy gets caught, understand the system and wants to go work to get himself out of trouble. But you need to train law enforcement. There needs to be uniformity in training law enforcement. If that involves training cis, I’m not the expert in this area and I think at the end of the day, how law enforcement deals with cis is the most important area.

CB:
One more question, viewer question says this. Chairman Armstrong told everyone at the hearing that both sides would have one hour for testimony march 21.they asked why was Erickson given until Tuesday to work on amendments to this bill.

KA:
Lad Erickson is state's attorney. He helped write this. Our goal was to get something that didn't take completely confidential informants off the table. We needed a bill to move forward, make sure it passed the senate and make sure we're dealing with people who understand this stuff.

CB:
Senator Armstrong, thank you for the time, we appreciate it.look forward to have you gone back on.

KA:
Thanks.

CB:
Thank you very much.



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