Offering Rewards to Solve Crimes: Does it Really Work?

When a crime goes unsolved, there are times that law enforcement or a victim's family may offer a reward in exchange for information that leads to an arrest and conviction. But does this really work, and how may a reward impact a criminal case? These are issues that our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will consider.

Offering a cash reward to the public in exchange for information that would help solve a violent crime, like murder, may seem to be a useful tool for law enforcement. In fact, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just renewed 2 rewards of $10,000 each on Monday for unsolved homicides, a Long Beach shooting and a Palmdale hit-and-run. The rewards have been renewed for an additional 90 days based on this decision. Rewards such as this may tempt people with information to come forward and share what they know with law enforcement, but in actuality they rarely pan out and may even hinder investigations.

A recent review by the Los Angeles News Group involved a total of 372 rewards offered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Los Angeles City Council from January 2008 to April 2013 to solve violent crimes. Only 15 of these rewards were actually paid out to people who provided information that led to convictions.

In one notable case, a $1 million reward in the February 2013 manhunt for a former LAPD officer who was charged in a series of shootings involving police officers and their families, actually proved harmful to an ongoing criminal investigation by drawing in hundreds of false or unhelpful tips and information. In the end, the reward was paid out to a total of four parties, but some have asserted that these people would have come forward even if the reward had not been offered (two of the parties, for example, were victims of the suspect, who escaped and called the police).

Some rewards have proven successful, however, such as the $1 million reward offered to capture and convict the "Unabomber," a man who was charged with engaging in a series of bombings between 1978 and 1995, killing 3 people and injuring 23 others. The suspect's own sister-in-law and brother ultimately tipped off the FBI to his identity based off his writing style and beliefs in his "manifesto" the agency had published during their investigation and collected the reward.

Offering a reward may serve to reignite community interest in a crime, which can prove helpful if detectives have run out of leads. It may also spur someone to come forward who may have been otherwise fearful of ousting a suspect, though in some cases the fear of retaliation is too great even in the face of a cash reward. Higher rewards are more likely to garner media attention, possibly even nationwide attention that can lead to a suspect's arrest.

When rewards are offered in criminal cases, this brings about an entirely different set of issues that may affect evidence against a suspect and an eventual conviction or acquittal. At Lessem & Newstat, you can count on our experience and competence as we address even these complex cases. A monetary reward, after all, may provide a considerable amount of incentive for a person to wrongfully identify a suspect or make false claims of a suspect's guilt. We are prepared to fight against unfounded charges to protect our clients' rights and freedom.

For more information about our firm, our attorneys and our criminal defense services, please call for a confidential consultation. We recommend that you act quickly to involve a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights. Call today.