Friday, April 13, 2012

Rats In The Courtroom

A particular troublesome dilemma prosecutors are faced with involves the use of jailhouse snitches. Jailhouse snitches are prisoners willing to testify to what they heard about another prisoner’s case while in prison. They have more than likely never met the victim or have ever seen the crime committed. The prisoner’s motives behind testifying can be a conflict of interests because many get leniency on their prison term after successfully testifying. Many defendants have been rightfully sent to prison, but also many defendants have been wrongfully sent to prison on false testimony from jailhouse informants. The fate of one man’s future is in the words of one such informant. 

The prosecution’s case against William Kimmel for allegedly assaulting his wife was dropped due to a lack of evidence; until, prosecutors later continued the case after a jailhouse informant came forward saying that William Kimmel told him he beat his wife. Isaiah Walker a 23-year-old inmate in the Northampton County Jail said that he had a friendly relationship with William Kimmel. Isaiah Walker testified in court saying “He [Kimmel] said he beat his wife to death with his hands and then kicked her down the stairs”. 

This alleged confession could be the piece of evidence that seals the case for the prosecution; however, there are questions involving Isaiah Walkers character. The 42-year age difference between Kimmel and Walker was called into question by the defense saying that it was unlikely they ever had what Walker called a friendship. Isaiah Walker is currently serving an armed robbery sentence and has already been transferred from a previous jail for testifying against another one of his fellow inmates.  The defense called Walker’s testimony questionable to say the least and in response called Samad McKoy to the stand. McKoy described Walker as “a creepy person” often snooping around other inmates business asking details about their crimes. The prosecution wants it to be known that McKoy himself is not testifying out of a sense of honor, saying inmates don’t like other inmates testifying against anyone period. A no snitching policy runs deep with inmates and Walker has been taken into protective custody. 

The case hinges on the testimony of two men. This his word versus his word makes for a real sticky situation. Not to mention that Walker could be granted leniency on his current sentence. This is just one example of how prosecutors need to be conscious of the validity of a jailhouse snitches’ testimony. “False testimony from snitches or informants was a factor in 15 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing nationwide,” (Forrero, director of the Innocence Project). So back to the dilemma in question. Should prosecutors be calling jailhouse snitches to the stand? Is a confession retold through the mouth of a convicted inmate too risky to be a basis for justice? I’d be willing to bet jailhouse snitches would be rare to find if prosecutors promised no form of leniency for their testimony. I believe the conflict of interest is too great to believe a testimony from any benefiting jailhouse snitch.  

 Declan O'Neill


  1. Lawyers should not put too much emphasis on leaning on the information from snitches. That is why the courts should gather all of their own information. We have to remember that snitches are criminals too and should not be trusted.

  2. This is a difficult dilemma. On the one hand an inmate may truly have heard another inmate's confession to a crime. Yet, on the other hand, it is difficult to trust the character of an inmate. It seems like McKoy has created a game of coming forward to testify against other inmates for his own benefit. Prosecutors should be leery when other inmates come forward with information. Many inmates are selfish and conniving and will make up lies in order to better their personal situation. At the same time, though, not all information can be ignored. There may be cases in which a reliable snitch comes forward with accurate information. In either case, I believe the character and background of the snitch must be properly investigated prior to the snitch testifying before the court.

  3. I don't think that prosecutors shouldn't be calling the snitches because most of them are probably full of it and just want to reduce their time in any manner. Inmates are very sneaky and looking to do anything (including lying) to get out sooner. Obviously, we never want to prosecute the innocent so hopefully there is enough evidence so prosecutors don't have to reach out to the criminal/snitches that have done wrong already. It's hard to believe a convicted felon.

  4. In some states, they used to place undercover agents in the prisons as snitches. An undercover agent would then be considered a credible witness. The problem that exists when this happens is that all inmates lie. They tell the outside that they are innocent, law-abiding citizens, all the meanwhile telling other inmates that they are the hardest of criminals because either they are hard criminals, or they want them to think they are so they can gain credibility.

    As far as snitches go, I think using them is a bad idea because they put the person at risk of serious injury or death from other inmates and they often lie to benefit their own situation.

  5. I think that when using snitches in the courtroom, we need to be very skeptical. Although informants can provide good information, we can't forget that they might just be telling us what we want to hear. I think they should be allowed in court proceedings, but their word should be taken with a grain of salt.