Informants and False Testimony
Back in the 1980′s when I was a prosecutor (hard to believe), I had a boss in Anchorage Aaska who helped to firmly convince me that I would be much better off helping people than putting people in jail. The one positive thing that I can say about him is that he had a much deserved distrust for informants. He always told us that “snitches”were unreliable and normally worse than the people we prosecuted. He forbid us from using informants without his permission. This was about the only point that I ever agreed with him on.
Now it seems that both the federal and the state government cannot make their cases without relying heavily on snitches. I successfully prosecuted over one hundred cases without once ever having to use the testimony of an informant. Informants now rear their ugly head in the majority of cases. Any inmate who is incarcerated is in danger that a “madrina”, “sapo”, o “dedo” will lie, simply to try to get out of jail. California courts have virtually given informants a carte blanche to lie, and have thus have encouraged many false convictions. The jury is told in jury instruction CALCRIM 336 that only an in custody defendant’s testimony is to be given close scrutiny. What about the out of custody informant who has been let go over given thousands of dollars of benefits to testify falsely in a case or the defendant who has had his case dismissed and is out of jail at trial?
California has a second convoluted jury instruction that is not much better. CALCRIM 334 requires that an informant’s testimony be corroborated before a conviction can be sustained. But corroboration can be very slight, simply any other evidence that an accused committed a crime. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seems to recognize this problem much more than California State Court. Not only do the pattern instructions caution the jury strongly about the benefits received by snitches, but they have actually done what California hasn’t– reversed several convictions because of the lying testimony of defendants. See. e.g Sivak v.Hardison and Maxwell v. Roe.
One of the reasons a good investigator and attorney is always needed is that there are many jailhouse informants and paid informants all too willing to lie. A good defense attorney and investigator can often expose the lies. See for example my case in People v. Kasim where the court reversed because of the many lies by the informants in which the government was complicate. Often, the prosecution merely shrugs its shoulders and says. ” it is for the jury to determine credibility.” Other than mistaken identification, there are probably more individuals falsely in jail and even executed because of lying informants. At the Law Offices of San Diego criminal attorney, Russell Babcock , we are experts in ferreting out the lies of informants and insuring that our clients are not convicted on false testimony.
You may have been a lousy boss, but you were sure right about informants.