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'Jumping on a Case,' Inquirer Special Report

"Informant testimony is a leading cause of wrongful convictions," says a recent article from Samantha Melamed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It factored in about one in five wrongful convictions, researchers have found, and 46% of death-row exonerations. Settlements in those cases have cost U.S. taxpayers nationwide close to $300 million in restitution.” 


But these relevant cases and potential solutions to the problems of informant testimony are complicated. PA Innocence Project Legal Director Nilam Sanghvi is quoted in this article, as well as former Assistant District Attorney and Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit Supervisor Patricia Cummings. 


“There are no easy solutions, said lawyer Patricia Cummings, who headed the Philadelphia DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit and now oversees the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan.  


“‘I think Philly’s got a particularly bad problem with it... but nobody’s really done that much about it,’ she said. The exonerations so far, she said, are ‘just scratching the surface.’ 


“At the same time, she said, the cases are not simple. 


“’We all know there are plenty of people out there getting paid or being given something – not from law enforcement after the fact, but from the defendant or the defendant’s family. There’s corruption on both sides,’ she said. ‘So at the end of the day you have to figure out what other evidence is there and how can you make an assessment as to what’s the truth.’ 


“The Pennsylvania Innocence Project’s legal director, Nilam Sanghvi, said that, for defense lawyers, even tracing out an informant’s history can be difficult, hinging often on the lucky discovery of a scrap of paperwork in a court file. 


“’You can’t just type [an informant’s name] into a database and figure out all the cases that he gave statements in,’ she said.” 


Read the full article here!

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