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Jail Informants to Face Tougher Vetting in Criminal Trials

Posted on in Criminal Law

Jail Informants to Face Tougher Vetting in Criminal TrialsIllinois has passed a law that puts greater restrictions on prosecutors using jail informants as witnesses in criminal trials. According to the law:

  • Prosecutors must disclose their intention to use a jail informant at least 30 days before a hearing unless they were unaware of the informant before that deadline; and
  • The court must determine the veracity of the jail informant’s testimony before allowing it to be entered as evidence.

The law previously required vetting of jail informants only in cases involving the death penalty, but Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. Advocates for the law argued that unreliable informant testimony led to wrongful convictions that were overturned decades later. There have been 19 such cases in Illinois during the past three decades, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Problems with Informants

A jail informant, also known as a snitch, is an inmate who allegedly heard the defendant make an incriminating statement and agrees to testify against him or her in court. Criminal defense attorneys will question the reliability of informants because prosecutors often offer incentives to informants in exchange for their testimony, such as:

  • Reductions in their criminal charges or sentencing; or
  • Favorable treatment while incarcerated.

Law enforcement officials may intimidate the informant into testifying and feed details to him or her to make the testimony sound more believable.

Vetting Informants

Courts are required to instruct juries before they deliberate that jail informant testimony is historically unreliable, but the testimony may have already influenced the jurors and hurt the defense. During a vetting hearing for the informant, the prosecution must show the court that the informant’s testimony is reliable in order to submit it during the trial. The court will consider:

  • The informant’s criminal history;
  • Whether the informant is being offered anything in exchange for the testimony;
  • What the informant alleges that the defendant said;
  • When and where the defendant's statement occurred;
  • When and where the informant told law enforcement officials;
  • Who else was present when the defendant made the statement;
  • Whether the informant at any point recanted his or her statement; and
  • Whether the informant has testified in other criminal cases.

Contact a Crystal Lake Criminal Defense Attorney

Prosecutors may turn to a jail informant when they cannot find reliable evidence and witness testimony in their case against you. They hope that the jury will not understand that the informant may have an incentive to testify against you. A McHenry County criminal defense attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, will fight to prevent the prosecution from introducing unreliable testimony in your case. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.

Source: 

http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=100-1119

Illinois State Bar Association State Bar of Wisconsin Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Illinois Trial Lawyers Association McHenry County Bar Association
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