Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sample motion for requesting informant reliability hearings

Here's one for the lawyers in the crowd -

Prof. Alexandra "Sasha" Natapoff of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has posted on her
faculty page a sample 11-page Motion Requesting Snitch Reliability Hearing (Word doc) in federal court. She also included the motion as an appendix in her upcoming article in the Golden Gate University Law Review. (See a draft version of "Beyond Unreliable: How Snitches Contribute to Wrongful Convictions.")

I consider Sasha Natapoff probably the premier thinker in America today regarding confidential informants - her 2004 article in the Cincinnatti Law Review, which I blogged about here, helped open my eyes for the first time to the depth and scope of how informant use has corrupted American law enforcement. And her December 2005 feature in Slate (which generously linked to a couple of Grits posts) helped popularize some of those ideas more broadly for the first time. I admire her work a lot.

It's ironic to me that when witnesses in civil court receive incentives for their testimony, they're called "experts." They're typically well paid and because that's a huge incentive to say whatever your client wants, detailed criteria have been established by which judges can determine whether a witness can reliably testify on the subject at hand. When witnesses in criminal cases receive incentives, however, they're called informants or "snitches" - they may be paid for their testimony or receive a more lenient sentence for their own crimes, but either way there are far fewer criteria for determining if they're reliable, even though they're arguably more likely to lie.

Right now, outside of undercover drug cases, informant testimony in Texas doesn't have to be corroborated and there is no procedure or standard for determining in state court whether a government snitch is reliable. Natapoff's motion gives attorneys an example of how to request such hearings in federal court. Defendants need the same ability to weed out unreliable informants in state court, too, but that could require changing state law.

3 comments:

TCADP said...

This is incredible material. Thanks so much for posting this information and the hyper-links. Much to-do gets made of DNA in exonerating folks from death rows and prisons, but as the Center for Wrongful Convictions points out, false information from "snitches" is "the leading cause for wrongful death penalty convictions." And, as TennesseeDude at The Tennesse Coalition to Abolish State Killing noted on July 4, DNA has only been involved in 14 death penalty exonerations, accounting for 12% of the total 123.

T J Geiger

Anonymous said...

Here in Ohio a recently retired prosecutor (Marino)who was formerly touted as an aggressive crime fighter by winning so many murder convictions often resulting in the death penalty has now been revealed as a consumate lying bastard. He regularly withheld evidence that would prove the innocence of the defendent and often made deals with jail house snitches and then lied about it and denied in court that deals had been made. In one of these snitch cases two felons were freed one week after testifying falsely and the convicted man was literally hours away from death when a Federal Judge stopped the execution. This case is not yet finished.

Chris Fabricant said...

Thanks for posting this. I sent it around my office - I'm sure I'm not the only one who will give it a shot in an appropriate case.