Use Of Jail House Informants Could Be Investigated

Jailhouse informants have always been a part of the criminal justice system, usually a very seedy part. Recent events in Orange County, California serve as another example of how dangerous jailhouse informants can be. A group of legal scholars, former prosecutors and civil liberty advocates have called for the Justice Department to investigate Orange County’s use of jailhouse informants and the concealment of informant-related evidence from defense attorneys.

The controversial jail house informant evidence came to light during a capital murder trial when it was discovered the Orange County Sheriffs Office had a 25-year-old database that kept track of the positioning of informants among the cells of the county jail, including who ordered informants moved and why.

It is illegal to use informants if they are acting as agents for enforcement or prosecutors. The problem occurs if the inmates targeted are represented by attorneys. At the point the defendants’ Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (against self-incrimination, and knowing who your accusers are) would be violated. A jailhouse informant who is acting as an agent for the state is viewed as a law enforcement officer by the courts. Experts believe that hundreds of convictions could face possible reversal depending on how the investigation turns out.

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