Jailhouse informants are notoriously unreliable and their false testimony has repeatedly caused wrongful convictions, experts who urged stronger safeguards told a California panel last week, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The use of jailhouse informants is “fraught with peril, and laden with risk,” Prof. Ellen Yaroshefsky of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City told the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. One study has shown that 45 percent of wrongful convictions identified by DNA evidence involved testimony from informants and “great deal” of them were jailhouse informants, she said.
A Mercury News article Sept. 18 detailed a series of problems with jailhouse informants, reviewing how easily inmates can invent confessions and how those who testify have received favorable outcomes in their own cases. Last week’s panel meeting occurred on the eve of the retrial of Roy Lopez Garcia, who is accused of murdering a woman in a case that has raised new questions about the reliability of a jailhouse informant. The informant, Timothy Villalba, says that while they were in jail together, Garcia told him that authorities would never find the shotgun used in the killing. Garcia was convicted after a 2000 trial that included Villalba’s testimony, but the conviction was overturned on unrelated grounds.