Sunday, December 3, 2006

Justice Pariente on snitches in Lightbourne


and SHAW, Senior Justice, concur.

PARIENTE, J., concurs specially with an opinion, in which SHAW, Senior Justice,


PARIENTE, J., concurring specially.

I concur with the majority, but write separately to highlight that in this case

the multiple postconviction proceedings primarily resulted from the jailhouse

informants' recantations of their testimony. I recognize that in some instances the

State may have no alternative but to present the testimony of these informants in

order to secure a conviction. However, our experience with postconviction

motions in death penalty proceedings has demonstrated that these jailhouse

informants (so-called "jailhouse snitches") are often unreliable and untrustworthy.

Most importantly, just as the jailhouse snitches may be willing to stretch the truth in.9. See, e.g., Sweet v. State, 810 So. 2d 854, 870 (Fla. 2002) (noting trial

court's order regarding credibility of informant, who had recanted and was now

serving a life sentence, admitted that "snitches are not highly regarded in prison,

and that the inmates consider it an admirable thing to testify on behalf of another


10. Indeed, due to the suspect nature of jailhouse testimony and the question

mark such testimony has left on the reliability of Illinois' death convictions, the

State of Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment has recommended

that its police, prosecutors, capital case defense attorneys, and judges receive

periodic training on the risk of false testimony by in-custody informants. See State

of Illinois, Report of the Governor's Commission of Capital Punishment, at 21, 27,

28 (2002).


their own self-interest at the time of trial at the behest of the State, following trial

they may be just as willing to recant at the behest of the defendant.9

Overall, because of the substantial risk of recantation, the State's reliance on

jailhouse informants to obtain convictions has the potential for impacting both the

finality of convictions and the integrity of the judicial process. In this case, there

was substantial independent evidence to support the finding of guilt and the

imposition of the death sentence without the testimony of the informants.

While I certainly understand that the State is presented with difficult tactical

choices at trial, I urge the State to consider the potential long-term impact effects

on the finality of the conviction when deciding whether to present the testimony of

jailhouse snitches.10 In this case, the recantations of the jailhouse informants have

resulted in nearly twenty years of postconviction proceedings that have cast a cloud.-25-

over Lightbourne's death sentence.

SHAW, Senior Justice, concurs.

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