First, in California the Legislature has passed a bill to require corroboration for jailhouse informants over the strident objection of the CA District Attorneys Association, reports the Los Angeles Times. Gov. Brown signed the legislation Monday. Notably, in 2009 the Innocence Project of Texas asked state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa to carry similar legislation in Texas requiring corroboration for jailhouse snitches - a bill passed unanimously that year in both chambers and signed into law by Governor Perry. But fewer recall that back in 2001, Hinojosa (then a House member) passed legislation requiring corroboration for informants in drug stings. And of course, accomplice testimony has required corroboration for years, and language from the accomplice witness rule was used to craft both Texas' jailhouse and drug snitch statutes.
Such half-measures, though, don't resolve all the problems surrounding police-informant culture, since of course informants are used throughout the justice system, not just in jails or drug stings. Last year Sasha Natapoff - perhaps the nation's leading expert on the subject - wrote that "The key to informant unreliability is not whether the informant is involved in drugs or in jail, but whether he expects a benefit and therefore has a motivation to lie. Nebraska takes the right approach in this regard by defining 'informant' to include 'any criminal suspect, whether or not he is detained or incarcerated, who received a deal, promise, inducement or benefit.' Neb. Rev. Stat. 29-1929. In defining informant broadly, the Nebraska legislature reasoned that 'there is a compelling state interest in providing safeguards against the admission of testimony the reliability of which may be or has been compromised through improper inducements.'"
The subject of criminal informants is receiving increased national scrutiny from researchers. Natapoff wrote the other day that it's "rare to get [as] much data about informant practices" as is contained in an extensive recent report on the subject from ACLU-New Jersey. She has also recently recommended a report out of Mississippi on informant related abuses, as well as a study from "NYU Law School's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice titled "Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the 'Homegrown Threat' in the United States." The latter document "examines three recent high profile domestic terrorism cases, in all of which informants played a central role, and argues that the use of compensated informants is creating the perception of a threat in U.S. Muslim communities where none may have existed before."
Finally, check out an review by Gary Marx of Natapoff's excellent book: Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. Marx believes that "not only should criminal justice practitioners and students be required to read it, they should be tested on it." For my money, the same goes for legislators sitting on any criminal-justice related committee.
MORE: A helpful reader from Florida points out this remarkable case from the Sunshine State involving police misconduct allegations related to informants. According to the South Florida Times:
According to several sources, the officers are accused of forcing a man at gunpoint to arrange a drug buy from two other men. They then allegedly took the man outside city limits into Oakland Park, where the drug deal was scheduled to take place at a hotel. In the police report, they referred to the man as a ‘confidential informant’ and allegedly fabricated the circumstances surrounding the arrests of the other two men.
The officers could face armed kidnapping, theft, perjury and other charges, according to sources.