How the False Testimony of Snitches Results in Wrongful Convictions

In some criminal cases involving wrongful convictions, the main evidence against the defendant is testimony by a police informant, who is commonly referred to as a “snitch.” Unfortunately, in weighing this evidence, a jury may be unaware that the snitch has received favorable treatment or a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony, or that he regularly has acted as a jailhouse snitch, testifying in multiple criminal cases. In this respect, the snitch’s testimony could be unreliable, in that it is motivated by something other than the sheer desire to confess the truth about the accused. As a result, a snitch’s testimony has proven to be false in some cases, which in turn leads to wrongful convictions. 
Incentives for a Snitch to Give False Testimony
When an inmate has little recourse in his own criminal case, and is facing stiff penalties as a result of his crime, the temptation and desperation may prove too much, thus resulting in voluntary testimony that negatively implicates a fellow inmate. At that point, the snitch has nothing to lose; at worst, he will not get the incentive he has been promised, and, at best, he might receive a lighter sentence, reduced charges, and/or more pleasant accommodations while incarcerated, such as placement near family members. This all-too-common phenomenon of incentives in exchange for testimony can result in false testimony, and wrongful convictions.
Even worse, a jury considering evidence in a criminal case is likely to be totally unaware of any incentives that a snitch may be given by the prosecution in exchange for his or her testimony. Therefore, if the snitch otherwise appears to be credible during his or her testimony, and gives a relatively plausible, the jury will have no reason to suspect that the snitch may have an alternate motive for his or her testimony.
Pressures on Snitches by Law Enforcement Officials to Give False Testimony
On the other hand, snitches are sometimes approached by corrupt law enforcement officials seeking evidence to support a conviction in a certain case. In some situations, the snitch has received extensive information about a particular criminal case so that his or her testimony will be more believable. Additionally, the snitch may be offered some sort of incentive in exchange for corroborative testimony, or even threatened with harm or less favorable conditions of confinement if false testimony is not given. Given the choice between potential incentives and/or punishment, jailhouse snitches are likely to follow law enforcement officials’ leads and provide the false testimony as requested. 
False Testimony by Snitches Results in Wrongful Convictions
The implications of wrongful convictions due to false testimony by snitches is highlighted in a 2005 report by the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern University of Law, Chicago, which profiles 38 death row defendants, convicted on the basis of false testimony by snitches, whose convictions were later overturned. According to the Center’s report, snitch testimony is the leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases, which obviously can have devastating results for the criminal justice system as a whole, not to mention its potentially irreversible impact on the innocent defendant, who loses years of his or her life to incarceration, or even life altogether. 
Overturning Wrongful Convictions Based on a Snitch’s False Testimony
If you or someone that you know has been wrongfully convicted due to false testimony by a snitch or informant, you should consult an attorney right away for help in appealing your conviction. While you can immediately ask the trial judge to review your conviction for errors, you are not required to do so before filing a formal appeal with the appellate court in the state of your conviction. The state court of appeals will review your conviction in order to see if any errors were made. If a snitch’s false testimony was the main basis for your conviction, you may have a basis for the appellate court to overturn your conviction. Furthermore, even if the appellate court denies your appeal, you can further appeal your conviction to the state supreme court, or the highest appellate court in the state of your conviction, which will give you another chance of having your conviction overturned.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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