RECENT LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY: Bill Introduced in Texas Aims to Restrict Informant Testimony in Death Penalty Cases

Texas Representative Harold Dutton recently filed a bill that would prevent prosecutors in death penalty cases from using testimony from informants or from alleged accomplices of the defendant if the testimony was obtained in exchange for leniency, immunity or other special provisions. If passed, the bill would make Texas among the first states to ban such testimony. Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola of Los Angeles Law School, said, “The use of criminal informants is a massive source of error in our most serious cases…. Criminal informants have strong incentives to lie and very few disincentives to lie, because criminal informants are almost never punished.” Anthony Graves, the most recent death row inmate to be exonerated in Texas, was condemned primarily because of the testimony of an alleged accomplice, who later admitted to committing the crime alone.

Robert Springsteen and Michael Toney, who were also exonerated in recent years, were sentenced to death after trials in which testimony of their cellmates or alleged accomplices played a prominent role. In filing the bill, Rep. Dutton asserted, “The truth of the matter is all the systems we have in place to protect innocent people from being convicted simply haven’t worked.”

(B. Grissom, "Bill Would Restrict Informant Testimony in Death Cases," Texas Tribune, November 28, 2012).  See Innocence.