An often difficult decision faced by prosecutors is whether to use evidence provided by a so-called jailhouse informant. Individuals, when incarcerated, may let their guard down with other inmates and speak freely about the crime with which they have been charged. They may also (perhaps falsely) claim to have committed some heinous act simply in an effort to “impress” fellow inmates. At the same time, inmates facing other charges may try to barter with law enforcement, providing information allegedly learned from a fellow inmate in exchange for some benefit, such as a lesser sentence. The negotiating inmate may have truly learned the information from the fellow inmate or may simply be making up a false statement to curry favor. It is left to the prosecutor to sort through all of these possibilities to get to the truth. PCE offers the following considerations to assist prosecutors in evaluating whether to call as a witness an informant (hereinafter “informant”) who purports to have heard incriminating statements from a fellow inmate (hereinafter “defendant”). It is understood that it may not be possible to follow every consideration listed below.
Witness intimidation and witness tampering can occur in any case, from simple misdemeanors to homicides. It has a variety of consequences from the silencing of an entire community, to the murder of a witness, to the recantation of truthful testimony. Though witness intimidation is an insidious problem, there are strategies throughout the investigation and prosecution of a case that can help to keep a witness safe and reduce the impact of intimidation.
June 30, 2016 — Volume 15
There has been great scrutiny of police-involved fatalities and how they are handled by prosecutors. Here are four thoughtful approaches by prosecutors on how they have reported their findings when no criminal charges are brought (in alphabetical order by jurisdiction). Three articles on this subject are also included.
June 23, 2016 — Volume 14
Around the country, prosecutors have supported the recording of custodial interrogations and have pushed for the creation of voluntary policies and, in some instances, endorsed legislation. Police have embraced this technology as well. The Colorado Best Practices Committee issued a report providing a national perspective on the progress made in this area. Also included are sample policies and articles from other states that reflect prosecutor’s leadership in promoting the recording of interrogations. Much of this work was spearheaded by Best Practices Committees.
May 19, 2016 — Volume 12
Boston – July 19 and July 20, 2016
BP Committees around the nation are spearheading exciting initiatives. Come to share ideas, get energized and enjoy each other’s company.
Prosecutors and prosecution coordinators from states with established committees and those considering starting a BP committee are invited to attend the National Best Practices meeting in Boston on Tuesday, July 19th, and half a day on Wednesday, July 20th (following the NDAA Summer Conference). Meetings will be held at the Westin Boston Waterfront, 425 Summer Street, Boston, Massachusetts. Hotel rooms can be reserved through NDAA (www.ndaajustice.org).
May 17, 2016 — Volume 11
“Best Practices for Prosecutors — A Nationwide Movement,” published in the ABA Criminal Justice Journal, highlights of some of the excellent best practices work from committees across the country. These committees support prosecutors in their mission to do justice, to build trust in the communities that they serve and to address emerging issues. Read
New Study: Expanded Eyewitness Jury Instruction Makes Jurors Suspicious of Any Eyewitness — Even in Strong Cases
Defense attorneys are increasingly seeking expanded jury instructions on the reliability of eyewitnesses in lieu of calling a defense expert. A recent study in New Jersey has demonstrated that jurors who received these instructions “indiscriminately discounted ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ testimony in equal measure.”
“Making a Murderer” has triggered much discussion about the criminal justice system. However, it has also raised questions about the ethics of investigative reporting. The recent New Yorker article below makes the point that “a private investigative project, bound by no rules of procedure, is answerable only to ratings and the ethics of its makers.”
Dead Certainty, How ‘Making a Murderer’ Goes Wrong, The New Yorker (1/25/16) Read
January 28, 2016 — Volume 6
Secure In Our Convictions:
Using New Evidence To Strengthen Prosecution
Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence, January 2016. Click here.
Benefits and Challenges of New Evidence: With the focus on erroneous convictions of the past, there has been little discussion of the improvements in science and technology that are enabling police and prosecutors to get their cases right in the first instance. Time and again this new evidence is being used in jurisdictions of all sizes to verify the guilt of a suspect or to exonerate an innocent suspect. However, with these benefits come serious challenges. Prosecutors must find the manpower, technical knowledge, and funds to keep pace with the changing technologies and the deluge of digital evidence. Pre-existing budget cuts and diminishing labor pools often compound these hurdles.
January 14, 2016 — Volume 5
Police departments around the country are purchasing body worn cameras (BWC) at an accelerating pace. Prosecutors should get involved in this process as early as possible. Here is a brief overview of some of the issues prosecutors may consider. Also attached is a selection of model policies, articles and reports that provide more detailed information.