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.