Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jun 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Monica Vaughan


Voters have unknowingly cut into drug agents' supply of informants, 
some law enforcement officials say.

The Yuba-Sutter drug and gang task force, NET-5, has had difficulty 
recruiting low-level criminals to become informants since 
voter-passed Proposition 47 went into effect and undercut 
prosecutors' leverage to make deals, according to Commander Martin Horan.

Drug possession charges used to be considered "wobblers," meaning 
authorities could determine if they would be charged as felonies or 
misdemeanors. These would come with different sentencing structures, 
which gave prosecutors options.

Proposition 47 recategorized possession of most drugs as a 
misdemeanor, thereby limiting the possible sentencing for the crime 
to one year in jail, which can be served in six months with good behavior.

Prior to Proposition 47, a sentence for felony possession of some 
drugs was up to three years in jail and could be more if the 
defendant had priors.

Offenders may no longer feel motivated to make a deal to avoid jail time.

Horan said he used to work with the district attorney to flip a 
suspect into informing for a larger investigation. When a suspect had 
drugs for sale, for example, agents could work with the suspect to 
reach the drug dealer who sold to the suspect.

Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath said his office never 
makes any promises to potential informants up front, until they hear 
what the defendant has to say.

"If it has value, we'll follow up on it then enter a contract," McGrath said.

In narcotics cases, if the informant agrees to "work a case off," he 
might work for agents in a number of "controlled buys" within a 
specific time period with NET-5.

In exchange, when the defendant completes the agreed-upon tasks, the 
district attorney may dismiss a case, or ask for a reduced sentence.

For a defendant to be motivated to be willing to work as an 
informant, "they need to be in enough trouble to be scared enough 
that they think they need to work something out," McGrath said.
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