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How dangerous is snitch testimony?

No one wants to go to jail. Especially not for a crime they didn’t commit. And especially not when the conviction is based on a story made up by a convict hoping to buy himself some favors or leniency.

Nevertheless, jail snitches and their made-up stories continue to wreak havoc in the justice system. And their lies continue to make their way into the news, such as with the case of a man recently released from a Pennsylvania prison. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, his conviction for a triple murder turned largely on the testimony of an inmate who claimed he had been an accomplice in the crime.

A more common problem than you might expect

You might wonder why a jury would convict someone based on the word of a convicted felon. It’s a legitimate question. But they keep doing it. Prosecutors keep turning to snitches for testimony that may help their cases, and they keep vouching for that testimony to juries who buy it, largely because the prosecutors claim it’s true.

The result is, as The Appeal notes, that criminal informants and their bad testimony play an outsized role in the nation’s wrongful convictions. They contribute to:

  • Nearly half of all wrongful capital convictions, which makes “snitching the leading cause of wrongful convictions in U.S. capital cases”
  • Approximately 15% of all convictions later overturned by DNA evidence
  • Thousands of criminal cases every year, with varying degrees of reliability

The problem is that the snitch relationship works in more than one direction. It works for the snitches, who hope to have their sentences reduced or gain other comforts. And it works for the prosecutors who want to win their cases and often overlook just how convenient the testimony may be.

There are times snitch testimony can be useful. As The Appeal mentions, snitches helped take down the mafia and exposed the corruption in companies like Enron. But their testimony always comes with risks. There’s always a risk the testimony is nothing more than the fiction created by an inmate who hopes to be treated well in exchange for his story, even if he doesn’t strike a deal beforehand.

Juries need to understand the dangers of snitch testimony

Perhaps the greatest problem is that juries can buy these stories. After all, if you go to court, it’s the jury members who hold your fate in their hands. You want them to understand how unreliable this testimony may be.

This is why the attorneys at Kammen & Moudy challenge juries to question the reliability of witness testimony. We know how lies can ruin lives, so we work hard to expose those lives and avert disasters.

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