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March 18, 2010

Posted by Alexandra Natapoff at 09:00 AM

More on the Spokane convictions

Last month I posted this story about three men convicted of robbery based on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch in Spokane, Washington -- "Another wrongful conviction in the making?" Here's the follow-up story in the Pacific Northwest Inlander -- Justice Served? After another inmate confessed that he and the informant had framed Gassman, Statler and Larson, the defense sought a new trial but the court denied the motion. Since then, various players in the Spokane criminal system have been grappling with whether the convictions were accurate. From the article:

Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Tucker says he's not very familiar with the facts in the case, besides what he read in The Inlander. And he's not compelled to look any deeper, he says. "I don't think you realize how many calls I get like this. It's not practical. The system is taking care of it," Tucker says. "The further investigation will come from the appellate attorneys. They'll look at it."

Tucker's assumption that "the system" will take care of the problem of lying informants is misplaced. Once an informant testifies, the appellate process does not permit a court to go back and reevaluate his or her credibility--that task is left to the jury. There are also numerous legal roadblocks to challenging a conviction, even one based on shaky evidence, as evidenced by the fact that the defendants in this very case were not granted a new trial despite the new confession. In other words, informants are easy to use to get convictions, but very hard to challenge after the fact. This structural arrangement is one of the main reasons that criminal informants have become such a significant factor in wrongful convictions.


It is hard to believe my son is locked up and Mathew Dunham (THE SNITCH)drugs again.He admitted being at FIVE violent robberies and Steve Tuckers office let him off with 16 months in a juvenile facility.He was the oldest juvenile ever housed in Spokane.He was freed on his 19th birthday.Tuckers Prosecutors office has since made more deals.There are no checks and balances for Spokanes legal system.I pray that justice does get served and our son's are freed.I also pray that Mathew Dunham gets the remainder of my sons 42 year sentence.The Judge and the prosecutor knew our boys were innocent and let it happen anyway.Maybe they could get the remainder of my nephews 20 year sentence.

"In other words, informants are easy to use to get convictions, but very hard to challenge after the fact." - I wonder just how valid your first conclusion is, given the assymetrical realities created by the appellate process and double jeopardy protections. In other words, might you be only counting the hits because only the hits result in convictions (and appeals and habeas)? But what about (non-appealable) acquittals? As one who suggests that not all convictions are factually accurate, surely you don't believe that all acquittals are factually accurate. How do we know that trial-level defense strategies are not particularly effective?

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Snitching by Alexandra Natapoff A Barnes & Noble Best Pick of 2009

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