The blue-ribbon panel tasked with taking steps to prevent future wrongful convictions is looking at the use of jailhouse informants and considering taking steps to ensure they are a reliable source of information.
Jailhouse informants are those currently incarcerated who come forward in another criminal case with crucial information. The weight of their testimony varies by the jury or judge hearing the case and the information they are presenting. Sometimes, however, their input could lead to a conviction.
In the case of Chad Heins, two jailhouse informants help send him to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He would serve 11 years before being exonerated. William Dillon would spend 20 years wrongfully incarcerated for murder after being implicated by a jailhouse informant. Wilton Dedge was convicted of rape and also served 20 years at the hands of a similar snitch.
Inmates and people who are facing current criminal charges often have additional incentive to lie in against another defendant. They are often given payment in the form of parole or reduced charges in their own cases by prosecutors. This, no doubt, doesn’t help increase their accountability.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, two University of California-San Francisco psychologists conducted a study which found inmates to be very good liars. They were very successful at deceiving people in the study.
The Innocence Commission is pushing for legislation that would require a sort of reliability test for such witnesses/informants. Currently, Illinois is the only other state with such a law. Florida currently requires such a test for scientific evidence, but none for testimony from witnesses or informants.
If passed, the Commission’s legislation would require a judge to conduct a hearing on the reliability of the informants. They would take things like criminal history and pending criminal charges into account. If the witness was made promises in exchange for their testimony, that would no doubt play a role in the judge’s ultimate decision.
The Commission is also considering language in the legislation that would require juries to be informed about the questionable reliability of a jailhouse informant’s testimony. This would be true in murder cases and drug cases alike—anything that required the use of such an informant.
In Texas and California, all testimony from such witnesses must be corroborated before being allowed. Just two weeks ago, the Commission backed away from such a rule in Florida.
There is no sure way to know who is telling the truth and who is lying when in court. Even lie detector tests aren’t completely reliable. This is why it can be so frustrating to tell the truth and not be believed.
If you are facing criminal charges and worried about your accusers reliability or whether anyone will believe your side of the story—contact our offices today to discuss your case.