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Police informants can testify in disguise, court rules

January 30, 2013 |  1:14 pm

A confidential law enforcement informant may wear a disguise while testifying in a criminal case, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge’s decision to permit a police informant to wear a wig and a false mustache while testifying in a drug case.

The defendant, who was convicted, argued in an appeal that the disguise violated his constitutional right to confront his accuser. But the court said the wig and mustache were "necessary to further an important state interest, namely a witness’ safety."

“Despite his disguise, the jury was able to hear his voice, see his entire face, including his eyes, and facial reactions to questions, and observe his body language,” the court said. “These are all key elements of one’s demeanor that shed light on credibility.”

The ruling, stemming from a prosecution in Arizona, affects California and other Western states.

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-- Maura Dolan

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