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Jailhouse Informants

Evidently, everybody confesses in jail. Or so it seems. With the trial of Geralyn Graham going on in Miami-Dade CIrcuit Court, the issue of jailhouse informants seems to be at the forefront.

Geralyn Graham is charged with murder for the death of her 4-year old foster child. However, since there was no body ever recovered, the prosecution has had to build its case on statements that the accused has made over the course of the past few years.

Since murder is a non-bondable offense, Ms. Graham has been in jail since the beginning of her case. In cases where defendants have spent considerable time in custody, prosecutors like to rely upon the testimony of jailhouse informants. In other words, these are inmates who testify in trial against an accused person, claiming that the accused person confessed to them.

In Ms. Graham's case, three inmates have testified that Ms. Graham confessed to them regarding her involvement in the death of her foster child.

However, from a criminal defense standpoint, jailhouse informant testimony is always suspect. This is because many times, inmates receive favorable plea deals or reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.

When a person is a mutliple felon charged with a serious crime, they may be inclined to do whatever it takes in order to avoid a stiff prison sentence. In Ms. Graham's case, one of the jailhouse informants who testified was a career criminal serving life in prison for armed robbery. In exchange for her testimony, her sentence was reduced to just ten years.

Situations like these can color the testimony of a witness. Did Ms. Graham really confess her alleged crime to some inmate in jail, or did that inmate make up the story in order to "sell" their testimony for a shorter sentence?

It is the job of the jury to assess the credibility of a witness. One of the criteria upon which witness credibility is judged is, "has the witness been offered or received any money, preferred treatment, or other benefit in order to get the witness to testify?" The jury must decide whether the jailhouse informants were testifying based on a desire for justice or a desire to mitigate their own sentences.

Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward. Contact Attorney Eric Matheny to discuss your criminal matter.