Regulations for use of jailhouse informants clears first round

A bill that would require increased transparency in the use of jailhouse informants was advanced from general file April 4.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist46' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Adam Morfeld'>Sen. Adam Morfeld</a>
Sen. Adam Morfeld

LB352, as introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, would require each prosecutor’s office to maintain a record of each case in which testimony is provided by a jailhouse informant and any benefit or plea deal offered to the informant.

Morfeld said the bill hopefully would curtail false jailhouse testimony, which he said has played a role in 159 wrongful convictions in the U.S. since 1989.

“The expectation of a reduced sentence or other benefits creates a strong incentive to lie, which can cause a tragic ripple effect in the criminal justice system,” he said. “[False jailhouse testimony] harms innocent people and allows actual perpetrators to escape justice.”

Morfeld introduced an amendment, adopted 43-0, which replaced a Judiciary Committee amendment and became the bill.

Under the amended bill, if a prosecutor intends to use the testimony of a jailhouse informant, he or she would be required to provide certain information to the defense, including:
• the informant’s known criminal history;
• any benefit requested, offered or provided to the informant in exchange for testimony;
• the specific statements the defendant allegedly made to the informant that would be used against the defendant;
• other cases in which the informant testified or intended to testify; and
• any case in which the informant recanted testimony against a defendant.

A prosecutor who offers any benefit or plea deal to a jailhouse informant first would be required to notify any victim of a crime committed by the informant.

Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers spoke in support of the amended bill. He said it would help strengthen protections within the context of the current legal system.

“The most important aspect … is to ensure the defendant has due process and, in order to have that, it’s important that they have notice,” he said. “If they have notice, then they have the opportunity to … get discovery or move to strike the [jailhouse informant] testimony.”

Senators voted 42-0 to advance the amended bill to select file.

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