Convicts As Key Witnesses–A Necessary Evil?


The federal government is relying on some serious criminals – murderers, drug dealers, and gang members – to make its case in a double death penalty trial under way in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court, says the Baltimore Sun. In exchange for leniency, at least six “cooperating witnesses,” most of whom haven’t yet been sentenced, are expected to testify against three defendants. That’s raised concerns among defense attorneys, who say the cooperators have a strong motivation to lie.

Critics point to a recent study from the University of Arkansas that suggests one in two people will perjure themselves if given an incentive to do so. “Their testimony is essentially bought and paid for,” said John Wesley Hall Jr., president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who emphasized he was speaking generally. Prosecutors say the deals are necessary evils and the best way to get information about illegal organizations. They work with law enforcement agencies to “flip” people for just that reason. “Often the people who are in the best position to be witnesses in a case are the people who themselves have been involved in the criminal activity,” said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

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