Thursday, July 24, 2014
Informing on Informants: Supreme Court of Florida Imposes Informant Discovery Obligations for Informants
Here's an interesting development out of Florida. According to an article in yesterday's Miami Herald,
The Florida Supreme Court, citing the Innocence Project’s findings, finally has changed the rules of evidence. Beginning this month, prosecutors now are required to disclose both a summary of the jailhouse informant’s criminal history and just what kind of deal a snitch will be getting in return for testimony. And now, jurors will hear about prior cases that relied on testimony from that particular informant.
The justices ordered new restrictions on the much abused informant testimony, because snitches, the court noted, "constitute the basis for many wrongful convictions." It was an unanimous decision. It was about time.
So, what are the specifics of change?
The Florida Supreme Court opinion was in case SC13-1541. That opinion amends Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.220(b)(1), which governs the prosecution's obligation to disclose to the defendant the identities of (and sometimes other information about) certain witnesses. The amendment adds informant witnesses. According to the opinion,
First, we amend rule 3.220(b)(1)(A)(i) to include a new type of witness that must be disclosed by the prosecution—i.e., informant witnesses, whether in custody or not, who offer testimony concerning the statements of a defendant about the issues for which the defendant is being tried. We also add court commentary to rule 3.220 to clarify that new subdivision (b)(1)(A)(i)(8) is not intended to limit in any manner the discovery obligations otherwise provided for under the rule.
In addition, under new subdivision (b)(1)(M), the State must disclose whether it has “any material or information that has been provided by an informant witness” which includes the following five types of material or information:
(i) the substance of any statement allegedly made by the defendant about which the informant witness may testify;
(ii) a summary of the criminal history record of the informant witness;
(iii) the time and place under which the defendant’s alleged statement was made;
(iv) whether the informant witness has received, or expects to receive, anything in exchange for his or her testimony;
(v) the informant witness’ prior history of cooperation, in return for any benefit, as known to the prosecutor.
Finally, we add the following court commentary pertaining to new subdivision (b)(1)(M):
[T]he Florida Innocence Commission recognized the impossibility of listing in the body of the rule every possible permutation expressing a benefit by the state to the informant witness. Although the term “anything” is not defined in the rule, the following are examples of benefits that may be considered by the trial court in determining whether the state has complied with its discovery obligations. The term “anything” includes, but is not limited to, any deal, promise, inducement, pay, leniency, immunity, personal advantage, vindication, or other benefit that the prosecution, or any person acting on behalf of the prosecution, has knowingly made or may make in the future.
Given the incidence of wrongful convictions involving “jailhouse informants” as stated by the Innocence Commission in its Final Report, the amendments to rule 3.220 will provide for the disclosure of information specifically relating to informant witnesses. This information is readily available to the prosecution and will not be overly burdensome to disclose.
Accordingly, we amend rule 3.220 as reflected in the appendix to this opinion. New language is indicated by underscoring; deletions are indicated by struck-through type. The amendments shall take effect at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2014.