Washington Law Review

Comment

Incentivized Informants, Brady, Ruiz, and Wrongful Imprisonment: Requiring Pre-Plea Disclosure of Material Exculpatory Evidence

March 27, 2018 | 93 Wash. L. Rev. 523

Abstract: An incentivized informant scandal recently hit Orange County, California where county officials were caught lying, hiding, and not providing information about their informants. Concerned citizens, attorneys, and scholars are beginning to ask more questions as these stories receive increased nationwide attention: what should we do about false incentivized informant testimony? What can we do?

Under Brady, Giglio, Ruiz, and their progeny, in criminal cases the government must turn over any material exculpatory evidence that it possesses, or that is available, when the defendant decides to go to trial. However, if the government does not know—or purports not to know—about material exculpatory information, such as an informant’s testimonial history, then there are often inadequate guidelines, rules, or incentives in place for the government to seek out and turn over this type of information. Moreover, because about 95% of state and federal cases end in plea deals, an informant’s credibility usually eludes public, judicial, and the accused’s scrutiny.

This Comment offers solutions for legislatures, courts, and other government actors to use to help reduce wrongful imprisonment caused by false incentivized informant testimony. First, it outlines the types of information about incentivized informants that the government should seek out. Second, it offers several solutions and, working within United States v. Ruiz’s framework, this Comment suggests a legal standard for when the government must provide material information about an informant before a plea deal: when the government’s case primarily relies on informant testimony but material exculpatory evidence in its possession shows actual innocence.

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