A law that was rejected twice by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was passed this week by California lawmakers. Despite the continued opposition from the California District Attorneys Association, the bill requires prosecutors to corroborate any testimony from jailhouse informants. The law will go into effect next year.
SB687 applies to cases where an inmate agrees to testify against a cellmate or other inmate who confessed to a crime. These testimonies are unreliable as the witness has an incentive and little to lose for implicating someone who may not have committed a crime at all. Now, the courts won’t be able to just take their word for it.
Though juries are instructed to take the testimony of jailhouse informants with a grain of salt, Senator Mark Leno, the sponsor of the bill, said that warning wasn’t enough. “Without the safeguards created in this legislation, the potential for the miscarriage of justice when informant testimony is involved is just too high.”
According to L.A. Now, “dozens” of LA County convictions have been overturned in the last 25 years because of unreliable jailhouse testimony.
Prosecutors, who largely opposed the bill, stated that jury warning was enough to ensure fairness. They also worry how the new law will affect their ability to pursue cases in jailhouse crimes. But defense lawyers and other supporters of the new law say that it will help ensure good cases, where the innocent aren’t convicted of something they didn’t do.
Similar laws are on the books in 17 other states. In addition to this particular law, others were recommended by a statewide commission that looked at ways to prevent wrongful convictions. All of the other recommendations– police lineup guidelines, tape recorded interrogations, and one allowing for compensation for the wrongfully convicted—were all vetoed by Schwarzenegger.
You would think those concerned with true justice would support any safeguards designed to protect the innocent and convict the truly guilty. It’s not unusual, however, to see some prosecutors display more interest in “winning” cases rather than meting out appropriate justice. This is just one reason it is so crucial to have your own advocate within the system.
A criminal defense attorney has your back when you are charged with a crime. They are there to help ensure you are treated fairly and your constitutional rights are protected at every stage of the game. If you are charged with a crime and concerned about your fair treatment within the justice system, contact our attorneys today.