New Louisiana informant law leads to prisoner release
Last year, Louisiana adopted a law that allows judges to reduce the prison sentences of inmates who provide information that helps resolve unsolved crimes. In November, Jefferson Parish officials released information about a former Angola inmate who was the first to be released under the new law.
The law creates the potential for reduced sentences for inmates who provide “substantial assistance” to prosecutors. A similar program has been available for years to people incarcerated for federal crimes. The man who was released had been serving a life sentence after a judge ruled that he was a “career criminal.” His sentence was ultimately reduced to 15 years.
The man started helping with prosecutions long before the law was passed. The first case he helped with involved a serial killer who was suspected of murdering 33 women and dumping their bodies across the state of Louisiana. The man knew two women who had been beaten by the suspected serial killer but survived. He convinced them to talk prosecutors, who were able to use the information to solve the case.
The man is also credited with helping to solve a number of other crimes, including the bust of a prison-wide drug ring and several murders. The option for a reduced sentence was not available at the time he started helping prosecutors; instead, he says he was motivated by a genuine desire to help victims’ families.
Controversy over the law
The new law can provide a significant benefit to some prisoners, perhaps offering them the only chance at freedom they will ever have. Still, it is not without controversy.
Some worry that the law puts participating prisoners at risk of significant harm. After all, the prison community isn’t always kind to suspected “snitches.” Informants could end up dealing with threats of violence, even after they are released from prison.
Others see the law as another step in the criminal justice system’s over-reliance on jailhouse informants.
While many prison informants provide honest information to prosecutors, just as many do not. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, unreliable information from informants is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States. Much of the worry stems from the fact that many informants are motivated by their own self-interest. The possibility of an early release from prison may only compound this problem.
The importance of working with an attorney
If you are currently incarcerated and are considering sharing information about unsolved crimes with prosecutors, it is a good idea to talk with a criminal defense attorney first. The attorney will be able to evaluate your situation and make sure you are treated fairly.
Similarly, it is just as important to work with an experienced attorney if informant testimony is being used against you. The attorney can help ensure that the testimony is reliable and can challenge it if it is not.