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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reliability hearings in Washington state

The Washington State House and Senate are considering bills that would institute pretrial reliability hearings in which judges would evaluate informant witnesses for unreliability before those informants could testify in front of juries. The House version would mandate the hearings; the Senate version gives judges discretion over whether to hold them or not.  News coverage from the Associated Press here.

Reliability hearings are one of many important tools available to combat unreliable informants and avoid wrongful conviction, including corroboration requirements, stronger and earlier discovery requirements, jury instructions, and limits on when and how informants can be used.  The Washington legislation thus represents an important first step.  It is motivated in part by the wrongful convictions of three young Washington residents several years ago who were convicted based on the testimony of a highly unreliable compensated informant.