News 01.27.16

Raising Concerns about Wrongful Conviction, Washington Lawmakers Question Reliability of Jailhouse Informants

A new bill making its way through the Washington state legislature seeks to reduce wrongful convictions caused by unreliable testimony of jailhouse informants by requiring judges to access the credibility of “incentivized” informants before they are allowed to testify. According to the

AP

, this would be the first such law in the nation.

The initiative comes on the heels of the recent exoneration of

Donovan Allen

, a Washington man whose wrongful conviction was based, in part, on “incriminating statements from jailhouse informants who received light sentences or had criminal charges dropped after their testimony.” Allen ultimately served 15 years for his mother’s 2000 murder – a crime of which DNA evidence later proved he was innocent.

“Without question, informant testimony is useful for law enforcement, and maybe sometimes it’s the only evidence in a serious case,” Lara Zarowsky, the policy director of the Innocence Project Northwest, which drafted the House bill, told the AP. “But if the defense tried to incentivize a witness, it would be witness tampering. Wrongful conviction cases are showing us that, yeah, maybe if you’re paid for your testimony you’re going to lie.”

The

Innocence Project

has long identified testimony by jailhouse informants as posing a significant threat to the innocence of defendants in criminal cases. In fact, the organization notes that in 16% of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, statements from people with incentives to testify —often incentives that are not disclosed to the jury — were critical evidence used to convict an innocent person.

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