Fighting Against In-Custody Witnesses, Flipping Co-Defendants, and Jailhouse Snitches

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There are two broad types of evidence that judges and juries may consider at trial.  Physical evidence, or exhibits, are typically things that the factfinder can hold, see, and touch.  The other broad category of evidence is witness testimony.  The amount of weight put on either physical evidence or testimony is solely up to either the judge or jury during deliberations.  Sometimes, there is no physical evidence to consider, and the case is exclusively built on testimony.  In cases like this, witness credibility is extremely important.

When considering a witness’s credibility, the judge or jury may consider:

  • The witness’s ability and opportunity to observe the event;
  • The behavior of the witness while testifying;
  • Any interest, bias or prejudice the witness may have;
  • Any relationship with people involved in the case;
  • The reasonableness of the testimony considering the other evidence;
  • Knowledge, common sense, and life experiences.

Sometimes, when a prosecutor feels as though they have a weakness in their case, they might resort to using a witness with questionable motives.  Whether it is an in-custody witness that claims to have witnessed an event, a co-defendant that is accepting a plea deal requiring testimony against others, or a run-of-the-mill jailhouse snitch, prosecutors sometimes jump at the opportunity to try and improve their cases.

Obviously, the credibility of any of these witnesses should be called into question immediately.  Clearly, these individuals have a motivation to either get a better plea deal, to have their sentence reduced, or to get out of jail.  The prosecutor should be mindful of these witness’s true motivation, and should carefully scrutinize the information they provide.  Nevertheless, sometimes witnesses with severe credibility issues are used at trial in a desperate effort to secure a conviction.

Recognizing the problems that these witnesses present, several states have attempted to impose strict regulations on jailhouse snitches. Some states require pre-trial hearings where a judge decides whether or not the snitch’s testimony should be allowed at trial.  If the snitch has testified in this role before, the prosecution must also disclose any benefits the snitch received on those occasions.

Unfortunately, in Indiana there is currently no legislation requiring pre-trial hearings concerning the veracity of in-custody witnesses, codefendants, or jailhouse snitches.  While prosecutors in Indiana are required to turn over any exculpatory evidence, including any potential plea deals with witnesses and their criminal histories, it is ultimately up to the judge or jury to listen to testimony and weigh the witness’s credibility at trial.

It is incredibly important to have an experienced attorney that can expose a witness’s true motivation for testifying.  A talented attorney can unearth several important pieces of information in a deposition that can severely discredit a witness with a motivation to lie.  As former prosecutors and experienced defense attorneys, the lawyers at Banks & Brower have a wealth of experience in questioning and cross examining in-custody witnesses, co-defendants, and jailhouse snitches.  We are available at all times by calling us at (317) 870-0019, or by emailing