Great, hour-long conversation with Adam Conover about all that is shocking and bizarre about the informant system.
The U.S. Department of Justice has released the results of its six-year investigation into Orange County, California, confirming that the Sheriff’s Department and the Office of the District Attorney routinely violated the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process rights of people in the county jail through law enforcement creation, reward, and use of informants. Story from The Appeal here: DOJ Finds Orange County Sheriff, DA Violated Civil Rights Using Illegal Jailhouse Informants. And on what kinds of enforcement actions might follow, see this from the Orange County Register which documented the scandal for years: Courts likely will be needed to force OC to fix illegal use of jailhouse informants.
The Orange County snitch scandal has provided the public with a rare window into the workings of the informant market. Orange County officials rewarded gang informants with money and other benefits, in exchange for which those informants unconstitutionally gathered information about other defendants. County officials lied for years about the program to defense attorneys and in court. Numerous convictions have been overturned as a result. For more, see these prior posts.
The New Jersey Attorney General issued Directive 2020-11 which requires all state prosecutors to seek supervisory approval before using jailhouse informants. That approval process requires, among other things, the collection of comprehensive information regarding the proposed informant witness. Supervisors must satisfy themselves that prosecutors have met their discovery obligations, and that “there is independent, credible evidence corroborating the informant’s testimony.”
In an early test of Illinois’s new reliability hearing requirement, a judge held that three men would be permitted to testify at trial after vetting them in a pre-trial informant reliability hearing. All three alleged that the defendant had confessed to them while incarcerated. The judge based his ruling in part on his finding that “no deal, no promises, no inducements or benefits were made by the state.”
The Connecticut Supreme Court has long required a special jury instruction for jailhouse informants. As the Court has written, “a trial court must issue a special credibility instruction when a jailhouse informant testifies because such informants have a powerful incentive, fueled by self-interest, to implicate falsely the accused, and, consequently, their testimony is inevitably suspect.’’ Last month in State v. Jones, the Court extended that requirement to an informant who alleged that the defendant confessed to him years before, when neither of them were in jail. The informant happened to be incarcerated when he approached police with the information. The state argued that the special instruction should only be applicable when an informant alleges a jailhouse confession, but the Court concluded that the risks of fabrication “do not depend on the location where the alleged false confession occurs,” since the informant had the same motive to lie, and because “false confessions are easy to fabricate, but difficult to subject to meaningful cross-examination.”