Many factors could lead to a wrongful conviction in Virginia and other states. For example, testimony from jailhouse informants can lead to bad information. The credibility of jailhouse testimony is often called into question because a prisoner might feel compelled to lie in exchange for a reduced sentence. Part of the problem with providing inaccurate information could exist because there are no widespread measures to combat this behavior.
Many states have become concerned with preventing false testimony from jailhouse informants. Some methods involve disclosing deals with informants and sharing an informant’s history of testifying in cases. States are also beginning to track the use of jailhouse informers.
Of the 365 people exonerated through DNA evidence, nearly one in five were sent to jail because of a lying informant, according to the Innocence Project. New laws regarding jailhouse informants could help by requiring the prosecution to provide information that could aid the defense. However, some prosecutors caution against using laws to determine the credibility of witnesses instead of using judges and juries.
There are instances when jailhouse witness information has been beneficial. In the case of a serial killer in Connecticut in 2003, the testimony of a convicted killer helped ensure a life sentence for the person responsible for the deaths of seven people. However, jailhouse informants have also been behind some notable failures in justice. In the case of two exonerations based on DNA evidence, two innocent men each spent around two decades in prison due to lying informants before being released.
Stories like this help illustrate that the criminal justice system is not perfect. This makes defense efforts especially important when facing charges. With help from a criminal defense lawyer, an accused person could question the evidence involved in a case. This may involve challenging the authenticity of evidence and whether it was legally obtained.