The Florida Supreme Court amended the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure last week, stripping Florida state prosecutors of their discretion to disclose information about informants. Under a new rule that lifts the curtain on the jailhouse snitches who long have been the source of false testimony in criminal cases, juries will be provided a more complete picture of the context of an informant’s testimony.
The Innocence Commission estimates that as many as 15 percent of convictions later overturned by DNA testing involved false testimony by informants at trial and that informant perjury was a factor in nearly 50 percent of wrongful murder convictions and in 46 percent of exonerations for death row inmates.
No longer protected by the rules, informant witnesses are now included in the general witness category under the discovery rules, which require prosecutors to disclose any material information that an informant provides to law enforcement. Material information can include: the informant’s criminal history, any plea deals that were agreed upon in exchange for informant testimony, whether the informant cooperated with law enforcement in the past as well as the exact time and place where a defendant made the incriminating statement to informant.
The opinion is an important one for those charged with crimes in Florida. Up until the ruling, prosecutors and police were able to hide behind their informants, even when the informants themselves were unreliable and at times, biased, to testify the way the State needed them to. Prosecutors are no longer the gatekeepers to this information, instead, the relevance of material information shifts to a trial court judge.
The new rule will give juries a more complete picture of informant witnesses, allowing them to weigh the informant’s partiality. Usually, in exchange for their testimony, informants are promised leniency, a practice most prevalent in Florida drug trafficking cases.
The Palm Beach County criminal defense team at Whittel & Melton not only provides zealous representation for clients when they are charged with crimes like Boca Raton Drug trafficking charges, we also represent clients in the post-conviction process, righting the wrongs of those who received ineffective representation from their trial counsel, were incorrectly sentenced, or when new evidence is discovered after sentencing that could have impacted their trial. Our team includes criminal appellate lawyers who have presented trial and appellate courts with persuasive written and oral arguments to overturn erroneous trial court rulings and to remedy incorrect sentences through 3.800 and 3.850 motions and direct appeals.
Call us today at (561) 367-8777 to discuss your case.