The truth about snitches: an archival analysis of informant testimony

Jeffrey S. Neuschatz, Danielle K. DeLoach, Megan A. Hillgartner, Melanie B. Fessinger, Stacy A. Wetmore, Amy B. Douglass, Brian H. Bornstein, Alexis M. Le Grand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Informants are witnesses who often testify in exchange for an incentive (i.e. jailhouse informant, cooperating witness). Despite the widespread use of informants, little is known about the circumstances surrounding their use at trial. This study content-analyzed trials from 22 DNA exoneration cases involving 53 informants. Because these defendants were exonerated, the prosecution informant testimony is demonstrably false. Informant characteristics including motivation for testifying, criminal history, relationship with the defendant and testimony were coded. Most informants were prosecution jailhouse informants; however, there were also defence jailhouse informants and prosecution cooperating witnesses. Regardless of informant type, most denied receiving an incentive, had criminal histories, were friends/acquaintances of the defendant and had testimonial inconsistencies. In closing statements, attorneys relied on informant testimony by either emphasizing or questioning its reliability. The impact of informant testimony on jurors’ decisions is discussed in terms of truth-default theory (TDT), the fundamental attribution error and prosecutorial vouching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • cooperating witness
  • jailhouse informant
  • secondary confessions
  • truth-default theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law

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