The Miami Herald reports that use of jailhouse informants, a common practice in federal and state courts, has fueled an increasing amount of criticism in recent years. Police and prosecutors routinely receive calls from jail inmates offering information about their neighbors in the cellblock — some of it true, some exaggerated, some false. Though many prosecutors wince at the prospect of calling a criminal to the witness stand, they say informants are often needed to solve crimes or uncover criminal conspiracies.
“Sometimes you need a thief to catch a thief,” said Assistant State Attorney Abbe Rifkin, who is prosecuting Calderon. But such assistance is rarely free: Inmates expect reduced sentences, forgiven crimes or other favors in exchange for testimony. Some legal analysts consider the use of jailhouse informants among the most corrosive practices in criminal courts. Defense lawyers complain that the exchange of testimony for leniency gives prosecutors an unfair advantage, because defense lawyers can make no such bargains. Earlier this year, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging prosecutors to limit the use of jailhouse informants, fearing they could lead to wrongful convictions. And some other states have increased judges’ oversight of jailhouse testimony.