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Illinois passes jailhouse informant restrictions

Illinois has taken a major step to prevent wrongful convictions and protect innocent people from going to jail based on the word of jailhouse informants.

The Illinois statute, which is considered to be the strongest in the nation, takes aim at a system that rewarded good liars and did nothing to protect the average citizen. Here are some important facts you should know:

  • Selling information to the prosecution can be lucrative. Two informants in California, for example, made more than $300,000 in just four years.
  • In cases where DNA evidence has later exonerated convicted defendants, jailhouse informants were behind their convictions 16 percent of the time.
  • The only other states that have adopted similar measures are California, Florida and Texas. However, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington are trying to pass legislation that would do the same.

Under the new statute, prosecutors in Illinois would have to disclose their intention to use a jailhouse informant's testimony a minimum of 30 days in advance of trial. This gives defense attorneys enough time to fairly investigate an informant's history and credibility. Prosecutors will also be required to explain exactly what the informant is getting out the deal -- and how many times the informant has been used in the past.

The measures aren't designed to stop prosecutors from using information that's legitimately obtained. It is designed, however, to stop "career snitches" from profiting from blatant lies. It's also designed to make the process fairer to defendants in general.

The new statute isn't without controversy. Prosecutors, naturally, don't like it. The Illinois governor actually vetoed the bill, but his veto was overturned by the state legislature. Defense attorneys, on the other hand, have good reason to cheer the new law's creation because they no longer need fear a system that incentivizes lying.

If you're facing criminal charges of any kind, this is a good time to remind yourself that silence really is your best option -- even when the police are not around. The less information you give out, the easier you'll make your defense attorney's job.

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