Monday, December 17, 2007

Recommendations for Avoiding Wrongful Convictions

NEW RESOURCES: The Justice Project recently released two policy reviews that provide suggestions for preventing wrongful convictions in criminal trials. Using research and data from past exonerations, the new reports, Expanded Discovery in Criminal Cases and Jailhouse Snitch Testimony, point to the places and situations in the criminal justice system where a wrongful conviction can be easily prevented.
Expanded Discovery in Criminal Cases stresses the importance of full evidentiary discovery in criminal cases. “Discovery” refers to how the prosecution must disclose all non-privileged information that is relevant in the criminal case before it goes to trial.
The Justice Project notes, “All other aspects of our constitutional system, such as due process and assistance of counsel, depend on complete discovery.” Amongst other solutions, they recommend that uniform, mandatory, and enforced discovery laws be put in place to prevent wrongful convictions.
Jailhouse Snitch Testimony highlights the prevalence of this form of questionable evidence in trials. Jailhouse snitch testimony refers to an inmate testifying against another for his or her own personal gain (e.g., reduced time in prison in exchange for the testimony).

It is often used despite being unreliable. According to the report, “A 2005 study of 111 death row exonerees found that 51 were wrongly sentenced to death in part due to testimony of witnesses with incentive to lie.” The Justice Project calls upon prosecutors to raise the standards for admissibility of jailhouse informant evidence at trial, including finding outside corroboration for the informant’s testimony and providing instructions to the jury that alert them to the reliability issues presented by snitch testimony. (Posted December 14, 2007) Read the Justice Project, Expanded Discovery in Criminal Cases and Jailhouse Snitch Testimony (both 2007). See also Resources and Innocence.

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