There are a few different reasons why you may find yourself behind bars before a judge or jury convicts you of a criminal offense. For example, you may do something that results in an immediate arrest, such as driving drunk. Alternatively, you may not have the financial means to pay bail or post a bond. Either way, you must be careful about talking to others when you are in custody.
Jailhouse informants are in custody, typically either serving a sentence or waiting for a trial. These individuals provide information, often about the guilt of others who are in custody, to police or prosecutors. Regrettably, though, informants regularly contribute to wrongful convictions.
An incentive to lie
Law enforcement officials in many places in the United States are rethinking how they treat jailhouse informants for a very good reason: Informants often have an incentive to lie. If someone agrees to testify against you or otherwise provide important information, he or she may receive any of the following benefits:
- Reduced charges
- Reduced sentences
- Family assistance
- Monetary assistance
- Jail privileges
Prosecutors should not use any of the above as a quid pro quo to secure incriminating testimony or other evidence. Nonetheless, if providing information immediately benefits a person, he or she may be less than truthful. This fact, of course, calls into question the reliability of any statement that a jailhouse informant may make.
A strategy for protecting yourself
If prosecutors plan to use a jailhouse informant against you, you must have a strategy for protecting yourself. Specifically, you must know how to undercut the reliability of the testimony. Investigating the background and criminal history of the informant is essential. Furthermore, you want to know about any promises that prosecutors may have made to the informant. You also want to work diligently to uncover any other information that may undermine the informant’s credibility.
You have a fundamental right to a fair process. Even though prosecutors use testimony from jailhouse informants against criminal defendants all the time, there is a big problem with this type of evidence. By understanding how to assert your legal rights, you can better plan for defending yourself against criminal charges.