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A Primer on Crossing An Informant
By Vida B. Johnson
I. The Snitch Witness
Cooperating witnesses — commonly known as “snitches”
or “informants” — are witnesses who make deals with the government. The
testimony of these witnesses is notoriously unreliable. In fact it has
been said that lying informant witnesses are the fourth most common
cause of wrongful convictions.1
Informants give testimony against the defendant in
exchange for money, help in their own criminal case, or other
considerations. They sometimes claim to be eyewitnesses. They often
claim to be ear-witnesses. In one way or another, their job is to tell
the jury something that helps the government make its case against the
defendant. Some informants are forced into the role through overcharging
and other harsh tactics by the government attorney who knows the
cooperator is associated with the defendant. All informants have bias
that a defense attorney can exploit.
Cross-examining a cooperating witness is an extremely
important part of a criminal trial an
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