When defendants are declared guilty of committing a capital crime, they are either sentenced to live the rest of their lives in prison, or they are quite literally killed by the state. There is so much at stake involved in capital crimes.
A jury must therefore exercise utmost care in pronouncing a defendant guilty, especially in cases where the death penalty may be imposed.
The Problem with Jailhouse Informant Testimony
The question is: how much weight should be given to jailhouse information evidence? Is it fine to give more importance to jailhouse information testimonies than to the account of an eyewitness or to an alibi presented to the court?
Data is suggesting that the preferential treatment received by jailhouse informants leads to unfair sentences. About 50% of wrongful convictions are caused by misleading testimonies, many of which from jailhouse informants. This fallibility is further exacerbated by the fact that 153 death row absolutions were imposed, after it has been found that the jailhouse information offered was not wholly dependable.
What Makes Jailhouse Information Believable?
It is a known fact that police agencies are limited in its investigative function in certain settings that are not completely penetrable for them. Clear examples of these settings are the illegal drug trading industry and black market operations.
The best remedy for the state is to gain the cooperation of a jailhouse informant, who knows better and has actual and direct experience, in exchange for some privileges that may be offered. The jury is then compelled to accept the testimonial evidence offered by an informant in the absence of evidence from the police and to make a more comprehensible layout of the events surrounding the case under consideration.
How Reliable Is a Jailhouse Testimony?
Words coming from a jailhouse witness are often met with cynicism. This is just a natural reaction from the opposite side, since rewards are promised by the state for divulging “very essential” information. The immediate conclusion is: informants are not really after the pursuit of truth, but only thinking about the possibility of getting lesser punishments, which is the usual offer from the government. In certain cases, they even get total absolution for their involvement in the case.
Another problem is that the chance given to informants may be taken as an opportunity to tell lies or to pass on the blame to others in the hope of making themselves appear “clean”. Worst of all, if they are found to be fabricating lies, informants are not in any way in danger of being slapped with a perjury case.
States Remove Privileges
Some states are taking actions against these special privileges. The state of Texas is on its way to making a rule that would prohibit admitting jailhouse evidence no matter how important the evidence that’s being presented.
Florida is more lenient. It will accept such evidence but only with prior jury scrutiny of the circumstances for which evidence is offered, the conditions under which the informant was made to tell what he knows, the privileges that were offered to him, the informant’s criminal history and the previous instances where he had shown such kind of cooperation.
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