The Champion

April 2011 , Page 40 

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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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