Merrell Law Firm, LLC

Laws require scrutiny of informant testimony

A movement is underway to examine the veracity of information offered by jailhouse informants, in part because of DNA testing that has exonerated people who were convicted based on informant testimony. Those who have been charged with crimes in Alabama might gain from increased scrutiny of informants. Several states have tightened regulations on the use of jailhouse informants because they are more likely to have ulterior motives.

Some of the new rules that have passed include mandatory pretrial hearings about whether the prisoners' testimony is allowable and requiring the prosecution to disclose deals that were made to bring about the testimony. Alabama has not yet passed any such laws, but the movement is gaining momentum nationally and may have an impact on future criminal trials in the state. According to the Innocence Project, almost 20% of former prisoners who have been freed by DNA evidence were originally convicted, at least in part, because of false informant testimony.

A number of states now require that jury instructions include an admonition that the testimony of jailhouse informants must be scrutinized more closely than that of other witnesses. At least one state has approved a requirement that judges conduct pretrial inquiries about the truth of a jailhouse informant's testimony before allowing it at trial.

Individuals who are charged with criminal offenses in Alabama might benefit from legal assistance. A lawyer who practices criminal defense law could help by looking for weaknesses in the prosecution's case, negotiating a plea deal in exchange for a reduced charge or arguing against the admissibility of certain evidence. Whether the charges are misdemeanors or felonies, a lawyer could conduct witness depositions before trial to undermine the credibility of prosecution evidence.

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