Prosecutors say that jailhouse informants are a prime source of accurate information that can hold people accountable for the crimes they have committed. However, groups such as the Innocence Project say that the information they provide may not necessarily be credible. Individuals who are in prison in Maryland or elsewhere may receive lighter sentences or other perks for providing what they know. This could create a conflict of interest as an individual could simply tell prosecutors what they want to hear.
A law in Connecticut would keep track of such informants and any benefits that they have received from prosecutors in exchange for their testimony. Connecticut’s legislation is the only state requiring that this information be tracked on a statewide level. The law would also require a pretrial hearing to determine if the testimony should be heard at all. In Illinois, similar legislation was passed that would require a judge to determine how credible an informant’s testimony was before a trial began.
Nebraska is another state that has passed a jailhouse informant law requiring greater transparency from prosecutors. In that state, a prosecutor must disclose to a defense attorney any previous instances in which an individual has testified in a case. The prosecutor must also disclose if a witness has recanted his or her testimony in previous cases.
To convict an individual of a misdemeanor or felony criminal charge, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There are many ways in which an attorney may create doubt in a case. For instance, it may be possible to assert that a witness is lying or is otherwise not credible. It might also be possible to have witness testimony suppressed before a criminal trial gets underway.