Many federal criminal prosecutions rely heavily upon testimony from other suspects or individuals who have already been convicted and are currently serving prison sentences. It seems that there is always a danger that this type of testimony may be unreliable because the person offering the testimony is usually doing so as part of an arrangement to reduce his or her sentence.
Now, federal prosecutors in Atlanta have discovered that some inmates had been purchasing information about supposed criminal activity. The inmates then offer the information to prosecutors in an attempt to reduce their own sentences, despite the fact they have no first-hand knowledge of the information that they are offering.
The result of this scheme would be that an individual who has been charged with a crime may find that one of the witnesses testifying against him has no actual knowledge of the alleged facts in his testimony. Instead, the witness purchased a story from another inmate and is now retelling it in an attempt to reduce his or her own sentence.
An inmate who allegedly orchestrated a scheme of this type is now facing new charges in what the Atlanta Journal Constitution has described as a “snitch for hire” operation. But the fact that this corruption of the criminal justice system happened at all highlights the potentially unreliable nature of witness testimony in federal criminal cases.
If any of these false witnesses were able to convince a court that their purchased testimony was indeed credible, it begs the question of how often false testimony has resulted in a conviction of an innocent suspect.
Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Ex-soldier, arsonist back in federal court,” Bill Rankin, Feb. 6, 2012