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.