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Should mentally ill jailhouse informants be allowed to testify?

| Feb 8, 2016 | Criminal Defense |

Government informants -or snitches as they are often referred to-are are nothing new to the criminal justice system.

For years, prosecutors have used the testimony of inmates to help secure a guilty verdict for those on trial for various crimes. And, in exchange for helpful testimony, inmates who cooperate and give their story are given lighter sentences or relocations to more favorable correctional facilities.

However, despite the popularity of using snitches, countless wrongful convictions have occurred all because of phony informant testimony.

An upcoming capital murder trial in the state of Virgina has sparked nationwide awareness about the use of jailhouse informants-and just may force lawmakers to take a closer look at this issue.

The case involves a Virginia man on trial for murder and is facing the death penalty. Prosecutors plan to call four inmates serving time for various crimes as witnesses to testify against the man.

The interest is not necessarily because these men are going to be called to testify-public attention has increased because two of the four were found mentally incompetent at their own trials.

One of the planned informants reported recurring hallucinations during his trial back in 2011. The other informant was later diagnosed with volitional malingering, psychological terminology used to define those who deliberately fabricate mental or physical disorders for gain.

Should these types of individuals really be allowed to testify given their apparent past psychological troubles?

No, according to the defense attorney for accused. “[These] witnesses are more willing to lie or perjure themselves than other categories of witnesses,” he stated.

The capital murder trial was originally schedule for this month but has since been postponed.

According to the Center of Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s law school, “snitch testimony” is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. Over 45 percent of the capital murder cases later exonerated had used informants.