When someone breaks the law, the consequences of their actions may frighten them. Those facing severe penalties and major criminal charges might go to great lengths to avoid the consequences of their criminal actions.
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors alike have used the vulnerable status of criminal defendants to help them bring other cases to prosecution for years. They may decide to name someone as a confidential informant or just pressure them to give testimony in a case in exchange for preferential treatment in their own criminal proceedings.
The use of criminal witnesses and confidential informants could eventually lead to an exoneration of someone convicted with what might have been tainted or falsified testimony.
Confidential informants and witnesses have a reason to lie
If someone already has a criminal record and just got arrested again, they may know that they face bigger penalties next time and want to avoid the worst-case scenario. When a police officer or prosecutor comes to tell them that they could avoid charges or jail time if they help with an investigation or testify against someone, they will probably do whatever they can to obtain those benefits.
Often, those pressured to testify or serve as confidential informants will later feel guilty because they lied or exaggerated. Recanted statements can have a major impact on someone’s conviction. For example, in Connecticut, a man sentenced in the 1990s recently gained his freedom partially because a witness recanted her statements. She acknowledged that her previous testimony resulted from pressure from the state and fear of criminal consequences.
Learning about issues that undermine the validity of criminal justice proceedings can help those trying to defend themselves or looking for grounds for an appeal after a recent criminal conviction.