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Judicial Control of Informants, Spies, Stool Pigeons, and Agents Provocateurs, 60 Yale Law Journal 1091 (1951)


From early times law enforcement authorities have utilized informers. Their

value in ferreting out crime was recognized in the ancient practice of English

medieval law called approvement. Being arraigned on a charge of treason or

felony the approver confessed his guilt and, in order to obtain a pardon, offered

to appeal and convict other criminals called the appellees. If the appellees

were found guilty the approver was pardoned. If the appellees were acquitted,

the approver was hanged. The approvement was open to obvious abuses and

Sir Matthew Hale observed that "this course of admitting of approvers hath

been long disused, and the truth is, that more mischief hath come to good men

by these kind of approvements by false accusations of desperate villains, than

benefit to the public by the discovery and convicting of real offenders, gaolers

for their own profits often constraining prisoners to appeal honest men."

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