If jailhouse informants come forward in your case, or the case of one of your relatives, don’t think that a conviction will be inevitable. Call (203) 327-1500 for representation by a law firm that fully understands how to challenge jailhouse snitch testimony and call into question the snitch’s reliability to the jury.
Jailhouse Talk Can Turn Into Testimony
People in jail spend a lot of time together. Whether they’re awaiting the resolution of a case or have received a jail sentence, chances are people behind bars will have numerous conversations with one another, often involving the crimes for which they were accused. Sometimes, someone who is incarcerated will contact a prosecutor and tell them they have heard someone awaiting trial confess to the crime.
Prosecutors regularly put jailhouse informants—often called “snitches”—on the witness stand to testify to hearing a confession from the defendant. These witnesses can persuade juries, but they can also be highly unreliable. In fact, research indicates that jailhouse informant testimony was a “leading cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases.” For this reason, it is critical to have an attorney who understands how to defend against the testimony of jailhouse snitches.
The Unreliability of Testimony
There are several possible incentives for people in jail to come forward and offer to testify against others. First, informants often receive some type of benefits from the prosecutor. Benefits can include a recommendation of a lesser sentence, reduction of charges, reduction of existing sentence, or even the dismissal of charges. Therefore, it is not surprising that some people are willing to snitch and are even willing to offer false information to obtain possible benefits.
In some cases, prosecutors may not offer a benefit prior to the testimony of an informant. When a defense attorney asks an informant if they are receiving benefits, they can honestly answer, “no.” This can bolster their testimony for the jury. However, the informant can be fairly sure that a benefit will be coming down the road if they cooperate with the prosecutor. Furthermore, some people in jail may have a personal vendetta against someone else. This can cause them to falsely claim they heard a confession to get revenge on someone.
Defense attorneys must always work to cast doubt on the reliability of a jailhouse informant. Was the informant actually able to interact with the defendant and hear the confession? Have they claimed to get confessions before? Were they a snitch prior to their time in jail (i.e. are they professional informants)? Did the informant have access to the defendant’s cell where he could look at the defendant’s copies of police reports in order to learn facts about the case? A seasoned defense attorney needs to explore all these questions and more in order to cast doubt on the credibility of a jailhouse informant.
Furthermore, your attorney should make sure that an informant was not put up to the task by a police officer, prison guard, or another authority. Defendants have the right to have an attorney present when questioned by a police officer, government official or someone acting on the behalf the police. If a prosecutor or police officer instructs someone to try to gain a confession, they become an agent of the prosecutor or police. The police or prosecutors can’t use a third party to do what they can’t legally do themselves. If they do, the confession gained by the jailhouse informant should be kept out of court.
Presenting Experts in Your Defense
In recent years, appellate courts in Connecticut have ruled that a defendant has the right to present experts to testify to the unreliability of jailhouse informant testimony. In one case, a capital murder trial relied heavily on the testimony of three jailhouse snitches without much outside evidence. The trial court did not allow the defendant to put an expert on the stand to testify that informants are often unreliable. The Connecticut Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ruled that defendants should have the right to confront jailhouse informant testimony with expert opinions. It is important for your defense lawyer to understand when to use an expert to call jailhouse snitch testimony into question.
Contact a Connecticut Criminal Defense Law Firm as Soon as Possible
Prosecutors can use many types of evidence to try to convict you of a crime, including testimony by jailhouse snitches. At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, our team of lawyers knows how to examine all the evidence against you and design a defense strategy that best challenges that evidence. We handle both state and federal cases and have successfully defended the rights of many clients facing a wide variety of charges. Call (203) 327-1500 or contact us online to get started on your case today.