It is nice to see California attempting to rectify one of the more serious problems with the criminal justice system. The problem is what I call “conviction by jailhouse snitch.” This is when the prosecution locks up someone in a county jail with known snitches. These snitches question and prod and sometime interrogate the defendant into saying something. They then show up at the trial to testify for the prosecution in return for a sentence reduction. In essence, the prosecution circumvents the attorney/client privilege by using a snitch as a proxy for the police or prosecutor.
The worst part is when informants–clawing for a sentence reduction–fabricate statements made by a defendant. They even have a name for it: “jumping on a case.” I watched this occur when I went through the system and I’ve watched countless others challenging this type of testimony only to see it routinely admitted.
Now in California such testimony is inadmissible unless the prosecution can corroborate the testimony. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a prosecutor’s group “argued that there was no need for such a law, since judges already tell juries to consider an informant’s testimony with caution. The association also said a ban on uncorroborated informant testimony would make jailhouse crimes harder to prosecute.” In response, defense lawyers and civil-libertarians argued that “informant testimony is often self-serving and unreliable and can lead to convictions of the innocent.” They were “joined by the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles, who say a requirement of corroboration, already in effect in their offices, actually leads to stronger prosecutions.”
Good for you, California. This will prevent erroneous conviction and make sure that prosecutors aren’t using informants as proxies for the police.
For more information on the use and misuse of jailhouse snitch testimony, check out the study from The Justice Project.