How Jailhouse Informants Contribute to Wrongful Convictions (And What to Do About It) by Jeffrey S. Neuschatz and Jonathan M. Golding

A recent series of cases in Tampa, FL illustrate a problem facing the legal system in the US—the
use of jailhouse informants. Jailhouse informants are witnesses who testify in a criminal trial,
often in exchange for some incentive. In the Tampa cases, a jailhouse informant named Paul
Means has testified in several cases as a jailhouse informant that have led to guilty verdicts.
Means testified in his latest court appearance that he came forward because the information was
“on my mind”, not due to any incentives he might receive (e.g., sentence reduction). His record,
however, reflects a different story. In at least two instances, prosecutors asked judges to go easy
on him.

The problem facing the legal system is threefold. First, although jailhouse informants may have
useful information to provide to prosecutors, it is not always clear whether jailhouse informants
are lying about a particular defendant. Second, jailhouse informants are particularly persuasive to
jurors and typically lead to guilty verdicts. Our many years of research are especially supportive
of this real-world impact, although much research remains to be conducted. Third, jailhouse
informant testimony is a leading contributor to wrongful convictions. Informants, after all, are
generally criminals who are offering testimony in return for some key motivator, such as a
reduced sentence.

Our many years of researching the impact of jailhouse informants on legal decision-making leads
us to several common-sense recommendations to avoid the problems noted above. For example,
all interactions with jailhouse informants should be recorded. In addition, records should be kept
of how jailhouse informants have interacted with law enforcement and prosecutors. Finally, all
information provided by jailhouse informants should independently verified prior to testifying in

The recently published book Jailhouse Informants: Psychological and Legal Perspectives by
Jeffrey S. Neuschatz (Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology at The
University of Alabama in Huntsville) and Jonathan M. Golding (Professor in the Department of
Psychology at the University of Kentucky) offers a new understanding of jailhouse informants
and the role they play in wrongful convictions. This book is accessible to all levels, and it offers
a broad overview of the history and legal and psychological issues surrounding the testimony of
jailhouse informants. It provides groundbreaking psychological research to address how they are
used, the number of convictions that have ultimately been overturned on other evidence, how
such informants are perceived in the courtroom, and by what means jurors might be informed
about the risks of this type of testimony. The volume provides a much-needed examination of
legal remedies to the impact of jailhouse informants and suggests best practices in dealing with
jailhouse informant testimony in court. There is a critical need to understand the influence of
jailhouse informants and how their testimony can best be handled in court in the interests of
justice. Jailhouse Informants is the first work of its kind that rises to the challenge of answering
these difficult questions.

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