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Last-Minute Testimony by Jailhouse Informant Permitted by Virginia Court of Appeals

On Behalf of | Aug 18, 2021 | Virginia Case Law

Prosecutors eagerly rely on the testimony of jailhouse informants, who are people who spent time in jail with a defendant and allegedly spoke with them about the crimes they are charged with. The testimony of an informant who was housed with a defendant while they were in jail can be persuasive to a jury, as defendants often confess to criminal conduct to others in jail shortly after they are arrested.

Persons who are charged with crimes are often reluctant to testify against others who they met in jail, and prosecutors sometimes offer incentives to jailhouse informants to get them to testify on the state’s behalf. These incentives, such as shortened sentences or dropped charges, can sometimes cause jailhouse informants to testify dishonestly and tell prosecutors “what they want to hear” in order to benefit the informant themself. Because of this, defendants and defense attorneys are likely to challenge the testimony of jailhouse informants however they can.

The Virginia Court of Appeals recently ruled that the testimony of a jailhouse informant in a defendant’s robbery case was permissible, even though the prosecutor didn’t tell the defense attorney that he would be testifying until the day of trial. The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with armed robbery after he allegedly robbed a convenience store. In addition to the workers at the convenience store during the robbery, the prosecution sought to call a witness who met the defendant in jail after his arrest. Although this jailhouse informant witness was listed as a possible witness in the state’s disclosures, the prosecutor told defense counsel that the informant would not testify unless the defendant himself testified in his own defense. The defendant chose not to testify, but the prosecutor reneged on his word and called the informant to testify about conversations he had with the defendant while they were housed together. The defendant was ultimately convicted of several charges at trial and was given a substantial sentence as a result.

The defendant appealed his conviction to the Virginia Court of Appeals, arguing that the prosecution tactics at trial resulted in the defendant not having the ability to prepare for the informant’s testimony. Specifically, the defendant claimed that with advance notice of the witness, he would be able to find favorable evidence to impeach the credibility of the informant. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the defendant, holding that the prosecution’s disclosure of the witness’s criminal record was sufficient to meet due process requirements. Specifically, the court held that the defendant failed to show any actual favorable evidence that would have been found with more notice. Speculation, the Court held, was not sufficient to reverse a conviction. As a result of the appellate decision, the defendant will be required to serve his time as sentenced.

Have You Been Charged With a Crime in Virginia?

If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with any Virginia criminal offense, be wary of the possibility of a jailhouse informant testifying against you. You should not speak with anyone besides an attorney who represents you about the facts surrounding your charges. Even if you speak to nobody at a jail, there’s a chance that a jailhouse informant will testify about you dishonestly in order to receive something from the prosecution. The skilled Virginia criminal defense attorneys at Robinson Law, PLLC understand the weaknesses of jailhouse informant testimony, and we can help you discredit or suppress any proposed informant testimony. Our qualified criminal defense lawyers have represented clients charged with all types of Virginia criminal offenses, including robberies and gun charges. If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime, our experience can help you fight the charges on all fronts. Call 703-542-3616 today to discuss your case and schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.