A growing criminal justice reform movement across the country has placed greater scrutiny upon the use of jailhouse informants. According to the Innocence Project, which works to free people from prison who suffered wrongful convictions, nearly 20% of wrongful convictions arise from false testimony provided by jailhouse informants. As a result, criminal defendants in Georgia could be vulnerable to misleading statements gathered by prosecutors from their cellmates.
Multiple states have adopted new laws to limit the use of jailhouse informants. Reforms include instructing juries to approach informants’ testimony with skepticism and requiring prosecutors to disclose any beneficial deals made with informants in exchange for their testimony. Additionally, some states have decided that hearings should take place to determine if an informant’s testimony should be heard at trial.
Consequences of informants giving false testimony in exchange for early release or reduced criminal charges can be severe for criminal defendants. The recent release of a man who spent 25 years in prison illustrates the profound harm that can result. A jailhouse informant’s testimony caused him to be convicted of an arson that killed six people. He said that he was totally shocked that people believed the informant. His decades in prison have left him struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He did not get to see his children grow up or attend his mother’s funeral.
To counteract the tactics used by prosecutors to achieve convictions, a person charged with a crime might want legal representation. A criminal defense lawyer may call evidence into question, especially if a witness seems unreliable. A lawyer’s efforts might reduce a prosecutor’s chance of convincing a jury to convict. In cases that might benefit from a plea deal, the person’s lawyer may be able to negotiate for favorable terms that limit penalties.