Brief filed: 10/08/2010
Elliott v. State, Md.
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland; Case No. 24
In deciding whether to disclose the identity of a government’s confidential informant, Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957) compels the trial court to rigorously balance the competing interests of both the government and the defendant. When the courts fail to apply this test, erroneous convictions and corruption of the justice system may result: the use of confidential informants undermines the truth-seeking function of criminal trials, increases the chance of wrongful convictions, and fosters an environment where corrupt practices can thrive. To protect against these dangers, the Roviaro balancing test must be rigorously applied, with an eye to the rule that disclosure is required when the informant is not a mere “tipster” but rather a participant, accessory, or material witness to the offense charged, in that his testimony is important to a fair determination of the case.
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Mitchell Y. Mirviss, Michael Schatzow, Andrew Paul Kawel, Venable LLP, Baltimore, MD, and Malia Brink, NACDL, Washington, DC.