Wrongful Convictions Encourage Florida to Reassess Use of Jailhouse Informants

According to the Orlando Sentinel, a Jacksonville man wasted 11 years of his life in prison for a murder he did not commit based on the testimonies of two jailhouse informants who lied to the jury, claiming that he confessed to the murder.

This incident places the spotlight on some telling statistics. According to data compiled by the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization in New York that works towards freeing the wrongfully convicted, 15 percent of all wrongful convictions that were later cleared by DNA testing/evidence involved false testimony on the part of jailhouse informants. Another instance of false testimony convicted two innocent Brevard County men, one for murder and one for rape. They each received more than 20 years in prison.

These incidents call for a necessary change in the way the courts handle jailhouse informants. Florida's Innocence Commission, the panel working to prevent wrongful convictions in the future, is considering new regulations that would require judges presiding over felony trials to review the reliability of any jailhouse informants and any witnesses who have pending criminal charges before they are allowed to testify. If this is implemented, Florida will be the only state in the nation to require such review for all felony trials. During these review hearings, a judge would:

  • Review the informant's criminal history;
  • Determine whether the informant was offered or promised anything in exchange for their testimony;
  • Determine whether the informant has testified previously; and
  • Determine whether the informant has ever recanted prior testimony.

It is too early to tell if this new legislation will be implemented, but, if it is, prosecutors will have to work much harder to prove their case. This does not mean that a person accused of a felony crime can do without legal representation, however. If you have been charged with a felony crime in Florida, the aggressive Brevard County criminal defense attorneys at Musca Law can protect your rights and build a strong defense on your behalf. To find out more, call us for a confidential consultation at (800) 687-2252.

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