United States v. McDowell, 687 F.3d 904 (7th Cir. 2012)

Seventh Circuit Criminal Case Summaries: Evidence - Confidential Sources

In United States v. McDowell, 687 F.3d 904 (7th Cir. 2012), the court of appeals affirmed the defendant's drug related convictions, rejecting his arguments that his confession should have been suppressed because of a delay in presentment, the government should have been required to disclose the identity of a confidential cooperating source, and the court improperly denied his request for a jury instruction regarding the requirement of evidence corroborating his confession. On the revelation of the confidential source issue, the court noted that the government has a limited privilege to withhold the identity of a confidential informant. However, this privilege can be defeated if the defendant establishes that the disclosure of the informant's identity is relevant and helpful to his defense or is essential to a fair determination of a cause. One important factor to consider is the role of the confidential informant; the more important and involved in transactions a witness is, the more disclosure is favored. In this case, the witness in question was definitely an important, transactional witness. However, the reason for the defense's request for disclosure in this case was weak. The defendant argued that the informant would have supported a duress defense because he could testify about a drug debt the defendant owed to his supplier. He claimed that the informant was known for using threats and violence against those who failed to pay. The court, setting aside the likely invocation of the informant's Fifth Amendment privilege if questioned along such lines, noted that a duress defense would not have been viable under the circumstances of this case because such a defense requires evidence of "present, immediate, or impending" violence. At most, the defendant here claimed only potential future violence, which is an insufficient evidentiary foundation for a duress defense.