News 12.09.08

The Danger of Courting Informants

False testimony from jailhouse snitches is a leading cause of wrongful convictions, involved in 15% of the 225 DNA exonerations cases to date. When someone receives an incentive to testify against a defendant – whether that incentive is money or a reduced sentence – the witness will often lie for his or her own benefit.

Some police departments across the country have taken steps to corroborate any snitch testimony they use in investigations. California lawmakers have passed bills two years in a row requiring that snitch testimony be corroborated for it to be used at trial, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed the bills both times.

And, as we reported previously, the Albuquerque Police Department ran a newspaper ad recently seeking paid informants. USA Today has an article today on the controversy over Albuquerque’s program and changes that other police departments are making to avoid false testimony from snitches misleading criminal investigations and causing wrongful convictions.

"Make some extra cash! Drug use OK. Criminal record? Not a problem." The ad in the Weekly Alibi prompted 93 calls during its two-week run before it was taken down last week, police spokesman John Walsh said…

The ad is drawing criticism from legal analysts who say it could lead to inaccurate information when some agencies are re-evaluating how they deal with paid informants…

"In an economy when jobs are scarce, this is just asking people to make up information for money," said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a legal ethics professor at New York's Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. "This is extremely dangerous."


Read the full story here

. (USA Today, 12/09/08)

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