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States pass tougher laws on jailhouse informants

September 25, 2019 – David W. Foley – Criminal Defense

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Colorado Springs | Call 719-757-1182

Colorado residents want to believe that the U.S. justice system is fair and just, but that isn’t always the case. In recent years, new DNA testing technology has exonerated dozens of inmates who were incarcerated based on the false testimony of jailhouse informants. As a result, a number of states are tightening the regulations prosecutors must follow to use informant testimony in court.

Jailhouse informants have always been controversial because they receive a lighter sentence in exchange for their testimony, calling their motives into question. Statistics show this skepticism is warranted. According to the Innocence Project, almost 20% of the 365 inmates exonerated by DNA evidence across the U.S. were convicted in part on the testimony of untruthful informants. To cut down on this sort of behavior, several states have passed laws restricting the use of informants. For instance, in July, Connecticut passed legislation that will keep track of any benefits offered to jailhouse informants for their testimony. The law will also allow the defense to request pretrial hearings on whether an informant’s testimony is reliable and admissible. In recent years, Illinois, Nebraska and Texas have also passed tougher laws on the use of informants.

Despite the clear evidence that many jailhouse informants lie on the stand, prosecutors insist that they can offer critical and truthful information. For example, fellow prisoners testified against a Connecticut serial killer who was convicted of murdering seven people in 2003. Some experts fear that new laws targeting informants will make it harder to use true informant testimony in trials.

A criminal defense attorney might be able to help defendants accused of a felony they didn’t commit. The attorney can review the evidence to see if there are any flaws or if it was obtained illegally.

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