Friday, March 13, 2009

Hinojosa: Corroborate jailhouse informants

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa filed an excellent innocence-related bill this week at the Texas Legislature, SB 1681, which would require corroboration to obtain a conviction based on testimony from a jailhouse informant.

Currently (besides accomplices), only informants involved in undercover drug stings must have their testimony corroborated in Texas - legislation Hinojosa also carried back in 2001 (then on the House side) in the wake of the Tulia episode and the Dallas "fake drug" scandals.

Jailhouse informants are more common in the most serious cases. A report released in 2004 (pdf) by the Northwestern University School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions found that, of 111 death-row exonerations since capital punishment was resumed in the 1970s, 51 of the convictions were based at least in part on informants' testimony.

Even corroboration may not be enough to stop jailhouse informants from contributing to false convictions. A "Los Angeles grand jury found that informants often used elaborate strategies to access information about a crime in order to enhance the substance of the confessions they fabricated."

But right now, as Texas' law stands, a conviction can be obtained on the testimony of jailhouse informant alone, and this would at least provide an additional hurdle to false convictions. Corroboration of jailhouse snitches was a key recommendation of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.

Before the session even began, Sen. Rodney Ellis filed SB 260 which would require pretrial reliability hearings before jailhouse informants could be used. Combined, these two bills would substantially strengthen protections against false convictions caused by mendacious informants.

RELATED: See a resource page on jailhouse informants compiled by The Justice Project.


Anonymous said...

does this bill include jailer snitches snitching on crooked jailers?

TxBluesMan said...

Hey, can you use his cellmate to corroborate his story?

Anonymous said...

I would certainly hope so. Any exculpatory evidence should be used. If the guy is innocent and has corroboration, why should it not be used? What you fail to understand (or pose as if) is that our justice system is constructed on the premise that we'd rather have the guilty go free rather than convict the innocent. So, the rules are slanted (purportedly) to reflect that premise. I would think that such a "lawn order" person would be aghast and ashamed at the police conduct that has placed so many innocent people in prison. But, I guess not. Again, Americans in general do not believe the role of citizens is merely to be targets of police enforcement actions.

Anonymous said...

It is a biblical principle. For THOUSANDS of years corroboration was required. Only in recent times, on our Land of Texas, has this 'common law' protection of the accused been ignored.

TxBluesMan said...

Anon 9:30,

You miss my point...

Anon 6:00,

Corroboration has never been a requirement under the Common Law, only where it was required by Statute or Case Law. You might want to recheck your facts...

Anonymous said...

ANCIENT 'common law' required at least ONE other corroborate the accusation against the accused.....
It is found in our US Constitution - Sec. 3 of Article III. "No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act"

Thus - an Accusation by ONE undercover cop, or ONE jailhouse snitch, was NOT even "probable cause" for complaint or indictment.

Even in the time of Jesus, and BEFORE than, in the Old Testament, and before that in the Code of Hammurabi - NO accusation could stand, without supporting evidence, or with corroboration of "two or more".

What Attorneys for the STATE (government) and Judicial Officials, both US and Texas, often refer to as "common law" is NOT "common law". See for understanding of 'common law'.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know if there's such a thing as "ancient common law," but corroboration was certainly a requirement in biblical Mosaic law ("two or three witnesses"), and it was reaffirmed in the New Testament by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul in Matthew and 2 Corinthians, respectively.

FWIW, the biblical requirement was for any witness, not just what we call "informants" (which given the reliability of eyewitness ID might not be a bad idea).

TxBluesMan said...

Anon 2:03,

When we speak of "Common Law," it typically means the Common Law developed in England and subsequently used in the United States as opposed to a codified law like the Jewish Mosaic Code.

In English Common Law, only the testimony of an accomplice needed corroboration. All other requirements for corroboration are primarily statutory. In the case of Treason, it would be considered a statutory rather than a common law requirement, in that it was written and passed as part of the Constitution.

You may want to visit your local law school library and see if they have the latest edition of "Murphy on Evidence" - there should be an entire section on corroboration.

You may also want to rethink what probable cause is because SCOTUS has already ruled on that. See United States v. Harris, 403 U.S. 573 (1971): "It will not do to say that warrants may not issue on uncorroborated hearsay." in upholding a warrant based on uncorroborated information.

Further than that, in the Federal system, case law not only supports a finding of probable cause on uncorroborated testimony, but supports a conviction based on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. See United States v. Arledge, 553 F.3d 881 (5th Cir., 2008) which stated:

"A conviction, especially one accompanied by an accomplice instruction, may be sustained on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice so long as "the testimony is not incredible or otherwise insubstantial on its face.""

I wouldn't put too much faith in the information on the website you cited - anyone that believes that "abuse of process" is an act of "treason" is a fool, and it is clearly counter to the Constitution.


I won't argue any of your points as far as biblical law, as they are probably correct.

Fortunately, we are not under biblical law, but under Constitutional law...

Anonymous said...

"Fortunately, we are not under biblical law, but under Constitutional law..."

We wouldn't have any problems if the ten commandments were obeyed.

The U.S. Constitution established a republic rooted in Biblical law, administered by representatives who are Constitutionally elected by the citizens. In such a Republic all Life, Liberty and Property are protected because law rules.

We affirm the principles of inherent individual rights upon which these United States of America were founded:

That each individual is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness;
That the freedom to own, use, exchange, control, protect, and freely dispose of property is a natural, necessary and inseparable extension of the individual's unalienable rights;
That the legitimate function of government is to secure these rights through the preservation of domestic tranquility, the maintenance of a strong national defense, and the promotion of equal justice for all;
That history makes clear that left unchecked, it is the nature of government to usurp the liberty of its citizens and eventually become a major violator of the people's rights; and
That, therefore, it is essential to bind government with the chains of the Constitution and carefully divide and jealously limit government powers to those assigned by the consent of the governed.

Anonymous said...

"Abuse of Process is Treason".
The PURPPOSE for creating Government on our Land is:
(1) preserve Liberty = the protection of the Law for the INDIVIDUAL.
(2) establish JUSTICE = Equal protection of the Law.
See preamble, US Constitution.
When public servants ABUSE the process to attain the opposite. That is; they use their position of employment at public expense to DENY a Private Citizen of LIBERTY & JUSTICE, they are acting as an insurgent in rebellion AGAINST the government created by a Constitution, and the people that created the Constitution.
Signed - the fool

Anonymous said...

TxBluesMan - wish I could find an email address for you. ....

PROBABLE CAUSE ---- The definition is self-evident. It means it is "probable" that "cause" for conviction for a penal offence can be shown. .....

Some Law Schools teach soon to be Attorneys that 9 wearing black robes create "common law".
They then allow a majority of the 9 use their "craft" to re-define 'probable cuase' to where any Citizen can be charged at any time on "uncorroborated heresay".
Such an absurdity renders the PROBABLE CAUSE provision meaningless. They then call this "common law" that overrules the Constitution that stands as "common law" on this land.

TxBluesMan said...

Anon 9:00,

The Ten Commandments include no other Gods before me. Why would I be required to worship your God? I think that I'll pass.

The U.S. is not founded based on Christianity. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and many other of the Founding Fathers were Deists.

God does not appear once in the Constitution, and President John Adams signed (and the Senate ratified unanimously in only the 3d unanimous vote in Senate history) a treaty that stated:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

Anon 8:15,

Treason is defined in the Constitution as only levying war against the United States.

Anyone that claims that abuse of process is treason is a fool.

Anon 8:35,

Probable cause is clearly defined, and your attempt isn't even close. You also misstate the standard for conviction, which is not probable cause (a very low standard), but proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Obviously you don't understand the law.

Informed Citizen said...

TxBluesMan - Please email me off this blog. so that we can save this blog being muddled with a private debate about the nexus between religion, philosophy, and politics.

The INTENT of the FIRST commandment given by the Law-Giver for the Nation of people, known today as Jews, but including its offshoots - Christianity & Islam -is MONOTHEISM.

You would understand this if you were a scholar of the HISTORY of the time of Moses - ie; what was happening in Egypt at the time of Moses and the Exodus.

If there is a God, there is ONE God. You are apparantly a polythiest.

You believe there are many Gods and Humans must kill each other as agents for these warring, TRIBAL, Gods.

CHRISTIANITY was, and still is when properly understood, a rebellion AGAINST those who believe that "all men are [NOT] created equal, endowed by their creator with certian [inherent - Texas Organic Law], unalienable Rights". The opposite of AMERICANISM and the original political foundation of the Texas Nation.

If you knew History, you would know that Christianity was more of a POLITICAL and PHILISOPHICAL movement than a Religious movement, in the first few centuries of it's establishment.

It was a rebellion against those who think they, as TITLED a High Priest of Judaism, or a Government Official of Rome, were the only ones who could "understand the LAW" OF GOD, or Man. Or, to use Jeffersons words in our Organic Law from our Law-Givers (the equivilant of Moses for this Nation): "The laws of nature and natures' God".

It was, in that sense, IDENENTICAL to the American and French Revolution that opposed MONARCHIES, and the attendant system of FEUDAL SLAVERY, prevelant at the time.

OUR courts, today, are full of those who are arrogantly incompetent. They are too arrogant to recognize their own incompetence (blinded by delusions of self grandeur), and too incompetent to recognize their own arrogance. An arrogance incompetence that seems to result from a license to practice law and/or a black robe as their employment uniform.

Whenever their lack of reasoning ability - their illogic - is exposed they respond with the typical High Priest attitude of those who crucified Jesus. "you don't understand the law".

They want WE THE PEOPLE to be SLAVES to those "titled" with a license to practice law and/or position of employment on the taxpayers dime. OR; maybe they simply lost a reasoning capacity, an ability for logic, they once had due to their hubris. They have become blind, unwillfully if not willfully.

Anonymous said...

A good snitch is a DEAD snitch!

TxBluesMan said...

Informed Citizen,

I have no desire to communicate you off of the blog. If you maintain the website of the same name, then you know my feelings.

You also do not know anything that I believe, but make an assumption that I should worship your god, or any god, whether it be Christian, Judaic, Muslim, Hindi, Pagan, etc.

As to the history of Moses? There is the popular version as recited by the Pauline sect of Christians, there is the position of Thomas Paine, of Robert Ingersoll, etc.

It would be more instructive to speak about Jesus, who may or may not have been divine, who may or may not have been crucified, who may or may not have been married, etc...

Your assumption that I am a polytheist is incorrect, much like your view on Constitutional law.

I find it curious that you cite Jefferson. You are aware, I hope, that he was a Deist, did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, and has made repeated statements like: "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty."

Again, I have no desire to discuss this further, and will not respond further.

Informed Citizen said...

TxBluesMan -
We may have more common ground than you realize. ....

Today, as in 1776, "the Priest" that is hostile to Liberty hides under a Black Robe as a Judicial Official. Other, lesser, "Priests" opposed to Liberty hide behind a license to practice law. ....
Your "intepretation" (understanding) of our US Constitution gives the impression you are. Or do you just blindly follow whatever the High Priests of our Day choose to proclaim as "the word of God"?
The references to religion at the Informed Citizens website is to COUNTER those who claim to be the prophets of our day, from the pulpit of a position of public service as President, VP, Etc. Fortunately, no longer on the same pulpit. It is for the benefit of those of little education and/or reasoning capability who "take it on faith" that the High Priests of our day speak truth. .......
Jefferson was a man of Reason, as were the others who stand as our Law-Givers. Just as Moses was looked to as the Law-Giver for his Nation.

Anonymous said...

If they have cellphones, they can easily get someone on the outside to corroborate their testimony...