When someone goes to jail on suspicion of committing a crime like DWI, there all sorts of risks involved. One of the biggest risks that an inmate is exposed to is accidentally leaking information through a jailhouse informant. The police and prosecutors know that when a person is in jail, he or she will do and say about anything to fit in, even if it means talking about what put him or her there in the first place.
Now reports are coming out of California that a county jailhouse there was running a jailhouse informant program that they later tried to cover up. The case involved in unmasking this program is of a man who pleaded guilty to murder when he opened fire on his ex-wife and killed her along with seven others. The state of California is trying to pursue the death penalty, but the defense is arguing that they are using wrongly obtained information from jailhouse informants.
The Legality of Jailhouse Informants
The legality of using jailhouse informants is a sticky issue, and one that invites several defenses based on constitutional violations. The main rules surrounding whether a jail can use informants in their prosecutions of crimes comes from a 1964 case, Massiah v. United States. In that case the prosecution wired an informant who talked with a person accused of federal narcotics charges. During the conversation he made incriminating statements that the prosecution used to convict him at trial.
The problem with doing that, however, was that the man already had an attorney and the case had proceeded against him. Under the Constitution, the police are not allowed to question someone once he or she has invoked his or her right to attorney, unless the attorney is present. The Supreme Court ruled that the case had to be retried without the jailhouse informant testimony.
Rule on Jailhouse Informants
The rule now on jailhouse informant use is a simple one. If the police deliberately elicit incriminating statements from a defendant after proceedings against him or her has begun, then that violates the U.S. Constitution. When evidence is procured by the prosecution, and the process they use to get the evidence violates the U.S. Constitution, then it should not be admissible in court.
Just like all other rules and principles from criminal law, these jailhouse informant laws apply to DWI suspects, as well. If you were accused of DWI,and already had an attorney on your side, the police cannot deliberately elicit statements from you via a jailhouse informant or otherwise without your attorney present.
Defending DWI Charges
If you are facing a charge of DWI, or a combination charge where on of the charges is DWI, you need to understand that your most important decision now is who will be your attorney. At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm, our name says it all. We put all our efforts in the law towards defending those accused of DWI, and we want to put our experience and efforts towards defending you today. Contact us for a free case evaluation.
(image courtesy of Miguel A. Ramirez)