Recently a Miami Crime Stoppers official was ordered to hand over a piece of paper that included an anonymous tip leading to a cocaine-related arrest, and instead the witness swallowed the evidence as he sat in the courtroom. As a result, the witness was issued a contempt citation and might get as much as two weeks in jail for disobeying the judge's order.

Apparently the paper he swallowed did not identify the tipster. The witness was simply afraid that handing the tip over to the judge would have set a dangerous precedent concerning those whom Crime Stoppers has promised to protect when they provide information anonymously on a telephone hotline. The witness believed it was possible that information provided by the tipster listed on the sheet could have ultimately lead to the discovery of his or her identity. The witness faces a potential two-week jail term and $500 fine.

It is important to note the anonymous tip resulted in a cocaine possession charge against a suspected drug dealer who was arrested after police were tipped that she was dealing cocaine at a certain time and place. She was arrested at a restaurant and found to have residue and cocaine in her handbag. Her lawyer claims he needs to know what the tip said to defend his client.

This story presents an interesting dilemma that happens from time to time. Although not an attorney, this Crime Stoppers representative is a former police chief and certainly an intimate part of our justice system. The choice between complying with a judicial order we are sworn to obey versus concealing client information we are bound to protect is not often an easy undertaking. Personally, I suppose it would be premature to conclude that I would accept contempt and hold my client's information in confidence in all situations, no matter the circumstances, but I am hard pressed right now to think of a situation where I would be willing to compromise a client.

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