News 09.15.16

Texas Commission to Discuss Reforms to Use of Jailhouse Informants

By Innocence Staff

A panel appointed to study wrongful convictions and recommend reforms in Texas will meet today to discuss the use of jailhouse informants in criminal trials, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission, named for Timothy Brian Cole who was wrongfully convicted of rape and died in a Texas prison in 1999, will discuss a list of proposed reforms for how officials handle incentivized witnesses. The final reforms will be presented to the Texas Legislature for its review by December 1.

The prospective reforms include requiring judges to hold pre-trial hearings assessing the reliability of the informant; informing jurors of the informant’s criminal history, including charges reduced under plea bargains; instructing the jury as to the problems with incentivized witnesses and the creation of a system that tracks the use of jailhouse informants throughout the state.

“Innocent people get convicted based on the state-sponsored testimony of jailhouse snitches,” Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, told the American-Statesman. “Unfortunately, what drives whether or not a prosecutor uses a jailhouse informant is how bad they need them. If it’s a high-profile case, and if evidence is lacking, they need them.”

Jailhouse informants are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions nationwide. According to Innocence Project data, incentivized informants contributed to 17 percent of the nation’s 344 DNA exonerations.

Read the Austin American-Statesman coverage here.

Related: Timothy Cole Officially Pardoned

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  1. I am wrongfully convicted. I spent 26yrs in prison on a life sentence. I’m convicted by testimony of a jailhouse informant and drug dealers. No physical evidence. But there is evidence to prove I’m innocent. I just can’t get help to show it in court. I’m grateful to be out of prison, but until I’m exonerated I’ll never be truly free. I hope I won’t have to die before I’m exonerated like Timothy Cole. My name at the time of my conviction was Shirley Southerland.
    I hope one day someone at the Innocence Project will take my call and listen. Everything I have was collected by The Worley Group (retired federal agents) and they believe in my innocence because they read the files they collected out of Harris County and did their own investigation.
    I will never stop trying to get my wrongful conviction overturned. Its what I live for. Too bad Timothy didn’t live to see himself free. That’s why I want to join the battles against wrongful conviction, so no one else will suffer in prison knowing they’re innocent and die before the truth sets them free.
    I pray someone will read this message and call me 903-574-6798
    Thank you

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