CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cali Commission Recommends Limitingthe Use of Jailhouse Snitches' Testimony

From The state Legislature should limit the use of testimony by jailhouse informants in criminal trials, according to the latest report issued by a blue ribbon commission examining problems of wrongful convictions in California.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice said lawmakers should enact a statute barring convictions based on the testimony of an in-custody informant, unless the account is corroborated by independent evidence.

Similar corroboration should also be required for jailhouse informant testimony presented in the penalty phase of a capital murder case, according to the 20-member commission, which is chaired by former California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp.

The recommended controls, if adopted, would parallel current state law mandating corroboration if testimony by a defendant's accomplices is to be introduced.

Jailhouse informants have been implicated in a number of wrongful convictions, including 46% of those reviewed in a study by professors at Northwestern University Law School, the report noted. Critics say it is all too easy for informants to gather information about their fellow inmates' charges and fabricate testimony to persuade prosecutors to offer them leniency on their cases.

Of the 117 death penalty appeals pending in the state public defender's office, 17 featured testimony by in-custody informants and six included testimony by informants out on bail or otherwise in "constructive custody."

Consequently, the commission said "confidence in the reliability of testimony of arrested or charged informant witnesses is a matter of continuing concern to ensure that the administration of justice in California is just, fair and accurate." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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