Sometimes the Snitch Recants
A Closer Look at the Use of Jailhouse Informants in DNA Exoneration Cases
Keywords:Wrongful conviction, Jailhouse Informant, DNA, Exoneration, Recant
We analyzed the role that jailhouse informants have played in DNA exoneration cases. Thus, for the first 375 DNA exoneration cases compiled by the Innocence Project (IP), we reviewed the IP information relevant to jailhouse informant testimony. We supplemented the information from IP with that from the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) and the Convicting the Innocent (CTI) databases. We found that 15% of these cases included jailhouse informant testimony. In 13% of the cases, the only evidence supporting a conviction was the word of the jailhouse informant. We also found that in 24% of cases which had at least one jailhouse informant, the informant recanted, and in 13% percent of these cases, the jailhouse informant had provided the only evidence supporting a conviction. There has recently been an effort in some jurisdictions for reform with regard to informant testimony. Reforms have taken many forms (e.g., pretrial hearings, jury instructions). While states should continue to consider adopting procedures in an effort to curb the reliance on unreliable informants (and researchers should continue to test what reforms will best achieve these goals), we recommend that any reform with regard to informants should include a consideration of recanting informants.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Wendy Heath, Joshua R. Stein, Sneha Singh, Da'Naia Holden
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.