CA bans uncorroborated jailhouse testimony

Uncorroborated testimony in criminal cases has always been a source of problems and worries. Think about it – you, as the jury, are being asked to believe one person over another, based solely on the tightly controlled testimony presented in court. It amazes me, and I know Miranda agrees, that any jury actually convicts based solely on the testimony of the complainant. How is there not reasonable doubt in every case?

Anyway, we have to start somewhere – and that’s where CA has started. The CA Senate passed a bill today (by a bare majority, no less) that bans the use of uncorroborated jailhouse testimony in convicting defendants.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said jailhouse informants frequently have an incentive to lie. He said Romero’s bill would help prevent wrongful convictions.

Whether it prevents wrongful convictions or not remains to be seen, but he’s got the part about the incentive to lie right. What greater incentive is there than to get a reduction in one’s sentence; a chance at escaping the hell-holes that are correctional institutions a little quicker?

Well, a “snitch” can be cross-examined, you say. True, but the lawyer doesn’t always have all the ammunition he needs. Prosecutors frequently enter into no agreement with the “snitch” other than a wink and a nod, so the snitch can “truthfully” deny any reciprocity when asked during cross-examination:

“Isn’t it true that in exchange for your testimony today, you are receiving a sentence modification?”

[With a straight face] “No. The State has not promised me any modification. I am doing this out of the goodwill that overflows from within my heart.”

“You don’t expect to receive any consideration from the State in exchange for your testimony?”

“I can expect anything, doesn’t mean I’ll get it” OR “No.”

Then what? You’re stuck and sure as heck, three weeks after your client is convicted, the snitch quietly has a hearing where his sentence is reduced by half.

This bill eliminates the problem. No corroboration, no testimony, no incentive to lie.

Now if they could only fix that damn co-defendant’s testimony doesn’t require corroboration rule, we’d have something.

5 thoughts on “CA bans uncorroborated jailhouse testimony

  1. Dennis Wilkins

    It is true that the Senate passed the bill. But now the Assembly has to pass it. That may happen. But Governor Schwarzeneggar will NEVER sign this bill. It will NEVER become law while he is governor.

    Schwarzeneggar vetoed four bills already that were, that were, like this one, a product of the bipartisan innocence commission. The other bills vetoed had to do with taping of interrogations in death penalty cases and things like that. This bill will not pass.

    It ought to be the law. It is a good bill. It is the right thing to do. But it will not pass.

    Oh, and in the meantime our entire prison system in California is a hairsbreadth away from being seized by the federal government due to massive overcrowding and mismanagement. The prison medical system was seized two years ago. And we have a $15.4 billion budget deficit that cannot at present be resolved. And the federal judge is just about to impound 6$6 billion from our budget to pay for the failed prison medical system.

    Dennis Wilkins
    Guest PD Blogger at PD Dude

    1. LJS

      If the snitch could provide _verifiable_ information previously unknown to prosecutors, that would likely be good enough. (Say, the location of a body in a missing person/suspected murder case.) One problem with snitches tends to be they pad their “information” with things gleaned from newspaper accounts and sometimes info gleaned from police investigators who don’t use good questioning methods (like avoiding leading questions).

  2. S

    The snitch having info only the criminal would know doesn’t in any way corroborate the claim that the defendant committed the crime. It’s still only the snitch’s word that the information came from the defendant. The snitch could get that info the way LJS suggested. Or the snitch could know secrets of the crime from someone else, who heard it from the real criminal. Or the snitch himself could have committed the crime.

  3. Pingback: Close to another DNA exoneration | a public defender

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