Testimony from in-custody informants, often referred to as “jailhouse snitches” has been widely used in the American criminal justice system. Unfortunately prosecutors often utilize jailhouse snitches despite their testimony being widely regarded as the least reliable form of evidence in the criminal justice system.
The Justice Project created Jailhouse Snitch Testimony: A Policy Review (pdf) to offer recommendations and solutions for improving the standards of admissibility of jailhouse snitch testimony. The policy review includes information on snitch testimony policy and law, case studies, states and jurisdictions which have enacted successful methods for safeguarding against perjured testimony, a model policy, and key statistics.
The motive to fabricate testimony is inherent in a system that rewards snitching for personal gain. When the state offers a benefit in exchange for testimony, the incentive for an incarcerated person to fabricate evidence dramatically increases. With little to lose and much to gain, jailhouse snitches are often desperate to attain compensation – such as sentence reductions or even an agreement that they not be prosecuted at all – in exchange for testimony against another person.
By improving the standards for admissibility of jailhouse informant evidence at trial, states can help increase the transparency and openness of the process and help ensure that the most reliable evidence is making it into the courtroom and before the jury.
The Justice Project’s Recommendations for Improving Standards
The Snitch System: How Snitch Testimony Sent Randy Steidk and Other Innocent Americans to Death Row, A Center on Wrongful Convictions Survey (pdf), Northwestern University School of Law (Winter 2004-2005).
Steve Mills and Ken Armstrong. “The Failure of the Death Penalty in Illinois - Part 3: The jailhouse Informant.” Chicago Tribune November 16, 1999.
The Marietta Seven
James Creamer and six co-defendants were wrongfully convicted of a murder in Marietta, Georgia almost entirely on the word of a jailhouse snitch, Deborah Ann Kidd. Six of the seven were sentenced to life, and Creamer received a death sentence. Transcripts of inconsistencies in Kidd’s statements were withheld from the defense. In 1975, the convictions of the Marietta Seven were reversed, and the state dropped all charges. Despite the dropped charges, the District Attorney declined to prosecute Kidd for perjury. Read about the Marietta Seven
Arrested at age 20, Wilton Dedge spent 22 years in prison for the rape of a seventeen-year-old Florida woman before DNA testing finally proved his innocence. The prosecution relied heavily on identification testimony by the victim and that of a jailhouse informant who testified that Dedge had confessed to committing the crimes. After years of fighting for a DNA test, Dedge won his freedom in August 2004. Read about Wilton Dedge
A Snitch’s Story
On October 27, 1988, Leslie Vernon White, who has provided testimony in as many as 40 cases, described the process by which inmate informers fabricate evidence. White received widespread attention after an appearance on 60 Minutes (and coverage in other national news sources) where he claimed that he often lied when giving testimony as a jailhouse informant. In an interview with Time Magazine, White, a self-confessed career criminal, had this to say about his prison stints: “Every time I come in here, I inform, and I get back out.Read about Leslie Vernon White