Jailhouse Snitches

The Facts
In more than 15% of DNA exonerations, a snitch or informant testified against the defendant to help secure a conviction.
People have been wrongly convicted in cases where the snitch:

  • Was paid to testify
  • Testified in exchange for being released from prison
  • Testified that they overheard a confession or witnessed the crime

It comes as no surprise that snitches lie or fabricate on the stand. For a desperate inmate, an incentive, such as a shortened sentence or money, is often a last resort. In addition, those who may be required to serve time themselves may provide snitch testimony as means to avoid incarceration. Sometimes, snitches come forward voluntarily seeking special treatment, but other times, law enforcement officials seek out snitches and even provide them with detailed background on the case, which gives them the information they need to provide false testimony. In addition, in some cases where there is not biological evidence, the snitch testimony is the only evidence.

Reforms are needed that do not weigh unreliable snitch testimony so heavily for juries. Possible remedies are: oversight by senior attorneys not trying case to look at credibility of snitch, reveal prior history of snitch to better assess credibility, video/audio record all meetings with snitch, and ensure snitch does not have access to case information.


Courtesy of Innocence Project of Minnesota (©2007)