Legislation is pending before the New York Senate that would reduce the occurences of wrongful conviction. Recommended by the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Wrongful Conviction, the six bills address, among other things, criminal informants, eye witness testimony, recording interrogations, and improved discovery. Here are links to the legislation and the NYSB press release.
The proposed informant legislation would accomplish a number of important things. First, it would require corroboration before any criminal informant testimony could be used in court. An informant is defined as any person “who is not an accomplice and who agrees to provide testimony or evidence on an understanding that he or she will receive a favorable disposition or resolution of pending or possible criminal charges, financial benefit not associated with usual witness appearance, or other substantial benefit for himself or another person.” This is an appropriate definition–it captures all informants who have an incentive to lie in order to gain a benefit, while excluding regular civilian witnesses, whistleblowers, and victims. The bill would also improve the discovery of information about informants, preserve informant anonymity if there are safety or other good reasons, and require a special instruction reminding jurors that the informant witness is receiving a benefit and that therefore his testimony should be viewed with caution. The legislation is covered today in an AP story about Steve Barnes who spent 20 years in prison based on the fabricated testimony of a criminal informant–story available here: Steve Barnes lost 20 years to lying jailhouse snitch: proposed law would keep liars from court.