Jailhouse informant testimony law stirs up controversy

August 4, 2011 7:05:56 PM PDT
A new law restricting the use of information from jailhouse snitches is stirring up controversy in the law enforcement community.

Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed the bill requiring corroboration of jailhouse informant testimony. It will become law next year.

"In a study of 100 cases when people were wrongfully sentenced to death row, in half of those cases, they were jailhouse informants who lied," San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

The California District Attorneys Association was against it. They say it legislates how law enforcement should do its job. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the legislation twice at the urging of the group.

"Juries and judges can make these calls; they can decide whether somebody is reliable and ought to be relied on," San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said. "What the law does is say, 'No, judge or jury, we won't leave that to you, we're going to say there's an added burden that must be imposed.'"

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon actively supported it.

"There are a lot of problems with jailhouse informants and using that information without further corroboration erodes the credibility of the criminal justice system," Gascon said.

Police say the same thing.

"We wouldn't just kick down your door because someone in jail told us that you, got the information being in a cell with you 20 years ago, that you killed somebody," San Francisco Police Department Cmdr. Michael Biel said.

Seventeen other states have similar restrictions on jailhouse informants.

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