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Jailhouse Snitch Information Testimony: The Admissibility Issues

When convicted of capital crimes, defendants face significant, harsh, life and death punishments. With so much on the line, every bit of evidence considered admissible can tilt the jury to decide the fate of a capital defendant. Jailhouse snitches, or informants, are considered the leading cause for wrongful convictions in capital crimes. It was found that 45.9 percent of these wrongful convictions for capital felonies were due to testimony that was provided by jailhouse informants. As of May 4, there had been 153 death row exonerations, demonstrating the significant unreliability of jailhouse informant testimony in cases.

Why is Jailhouse Informant Testimony So Persuasive?

With so much on the line, how is it that jailhouse informant testimony is even considered valuable? Generally, in certain trades and markets (especially the black market), there are very rarely people who are “in the know”. To know the details of the certain industry (such as the black market), you must have actually been there in order to known reliable details. Police and prosecutors rely heavily on the information that these jailhouse informants provide, largely because they may be the only source of information. This point makes jailhouse informant testimony highly persuasive to the jury, more so than any information that an eyewitness or alibi witness could provide.

The Reliability Issues of Jailhouse Testimony

Unfortunately, the reliability of the information starts to be diluted as more of these informants are being offered leniency in exchange for information. Rewarding informants for information equates to a serious issue of quality control, since informants may provide anything, even if untrue, for the opportunity to help themselves or their circumstances, or sometimes even to project their own guilt onto the defendant for a crime that the informant in fact committed. Informants also confront insignificant consequences for any information that does not pan out or has been found to be outright fabricated.

Difference between Regular Witness Testimony and Jailhouse Informant Testimony

Though other witnesses have the opportunity to lie and do lie on the stand while giving testimony, the incentives are different. Snitches who are compensated for their testimony are inherently biased, and self-interested in the reward that comes from information. Witnesses on the stand may have just as compelling incentives to lie, but very rarely is it for their self-preservation. Also, witnesses that lie on the stand may actually confront perjury prosecutions whereas snitches very rarely are prosecuted for perjury.

States Revamp Jailhouse Testimony Rules

States are currently in the process of revamping and editing their evidence rules to mitigate the problems associated with jailhouse snitch testimony. Texas, for example, is drafting a bill that would make it the first state to eliminate jailhouse snitch testimony from the list of admissible evidence that juries may contemplate.

Florida Jailhouse Testimony Laws

Florida, in 2014, passed its own legislation that alters the method by which juries are able to receive testimony from jailhouse snitches. Before juries may hear jailhouse snitch informant testimony, it must be disclosed to the jury that testimony is coming from a jailhouse informant and the material circumstances under which the information was extracted from the informant, especially what rewards the informant may expect to reap. In addition, the informant’s criminal history and prior history of cooperation must be disclosed to the jury as well.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

The admissibility or inadmissibility of evidence is determined by the judge at a criminal proceeding. However, the admissibility may turn on the argument which best interprets the evidence rules of the court. Kevin J. Kulik is a trained and experienced criminal defense attorney and can help make the case for why evidence in your criminal proceeding is inadmissible. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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