California should limit the use of testimony by jailhouse informants in criminal trials, says a commission examining problems of wrongful convictions, according to the Los Antgeles Times. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice said legislators should bar convictions based on the testimony of an in-custody informant, unless the account is corroborated by independent evidence. Similar corroboration should be required for jailhouse informant testimony presented in the penalty phase of a capital murder case, said the 20-member panel, chaired by former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp.
Jailhouse informants have been implicated in many wrongful convictions, including 46 percent of those reviewed in a study by professors at Northwestern University Law School. Critics say it is easy for informants to gather information on fellow inmates’ charges and fabricate testimony to persuade prosecutors to offer them leniency. Of the 117 death penalty appeals being handled by the state public defender, 17 included testimony by in-custody informants and six cited testimony by informants on bail or in “constructive custody.”