In Response to Slaying, "Chad's Law" Will Place Stricter Limits on Use of Children as Informants in California 9/04/98

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By a margin of 70-1, the California State legislature has passed a bill known as "Chad's Law" that would place limits on the way law enforcement uses minors as informants. AB 2816 would prohibit the police from using informants under 13 years of age, and insure that teen-agers work undercover only with informed parental consent and a judge's approval. California State Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) authored the bill in response to the murder last year of teenager Chad MacDonald by dealers he'd informed upon in cooperation with local police. MacDonald, 17, had been arrested in January on a small possession charge, and wore a wire as part of a deal to have the charges dropped. Two months later he was beaten and strangled, and his 15-year-old girlfriend raped, beaten and left for dead. (See the March 27, 1998 issue of The Week Online for the full story http://www.drcnet.org/wol/035.html#informant.)

"If this law had been in place last January," Baugh told the Week Online, "The Chad MacDonald tragedy would never have happened." First, law enforcement and prosecutors would not have been able to use scare tactics such as telling MacDonald he was facing a long prison term. (In fact, according to Baugh, he would likely have been sentenced to only 6 months in a drug rehab program.) Second, prosecutors pressured MacDonald's mother into agreeing to the plan, warning her not to consult with her fiance and telling her she had only a day to make her decision. By requiring a judge to approve the use of minor informants on a case-by-case basis, the bill introduces a level of accountability that should prevent such "coerced consent."

Originally, the bill proposed to prohibit children under 15 from undercover work. The age limit was amended to 13, according to Baugh, after law enforcement representatives testified before the Assembly that preventing younger teenagers from informing would only encourage dealers to recruit them into the drug trade. "They told us that thugs would target younger children to do the dirty work," Baugh said. The California State Assembly voted 70-1 to send the bill to Gov. Pete Wilson, and the Senate approved the bill a 37-0 vote last Thursday. Governor Pete Wilson is expected to sign the bill into law.

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Issue #57, 9/04/98 Gray vs. Satel in Slate Online Magazine | Federal Judge Rejects Oakland Buyers' Club Status, Rejects Government's Call for Immediate Shut-Down | Police Seize Methadone Treatment Clinic Files | In Response to Slaying, "Chad's Law" Will Place Stricter Limits on Use of Children as Informants in California | Judge Finds City-Imposed Restrictions on Scheduled Marijuana Rally Unconstitutional | Survey Finds American Teens Woefully Uninformed about Government | California State Senate Adjourns without Taking Action on Medical Marijuana Research Bill | Afghani Opium Crop Grows Despite Taliban's Promises of Eradication | Editorial: From Ignorance to Tyranny
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