Connecticut Turns Jailhouse Witness Bill Into Official State Legislature

Connecticut is the first state in the country to sign SB 1098 and make it law. This law requires prosecutors to investigate information on jailhouse witnesses.

It mandates the states’ Office of Policy and Management Criminal Justice Division to create a system that helps track any information on all jail houses that prosecutors can access.

State Campaign Director for the Innocence Project, Michelle Feldman, helped create the bill. She said it was important for prosecutors to have access to information whether the person was reliable or not. She felt this new law would add an additional layer of transparency in how the information given by jailhouse witnesses would be used.

Support For New Jail & Arrest Regulations

This law was supported by many people in the state, including Cheryl White-Mink, who told the judiciary committee that her uncle Alfred Swinton had to serve 19 years out of a 60-year sentence for a crime that he had not committed. Swinton had been arrested in 2001 for allegedly murdering Carla Terry. He got convicted because of the testimony of a jailhouse witness who had lied to the court. He was not able to obtain a bail bond for murder for his alleged crimes. He was freed from jail in 2018 after DNA evidence was re-examined.

The Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union and the Chief Public Defender also supported this law. It gives many defense attorneys the right to get detailed information about a jailhouse witness and request a hearing based on how reliable the testimony is. As per this law, prosecutors will have to give information on the witnesses’ criminal background, any pending cases they have, any cases for which they testified, and how it benefited them. All this information will have to be given within 45 days of the defense attorney asking for it.

If any defense attorney requests a hearing on the witness, the evidence and testimony provided will have to be reviewed. The review will also include whether it was obtained by any other means other than from the defendant.

Feldman said that many jailhouse informants are strongly motivated to lie, and hence it was important to have transparency at all levels in the system. The newly signed Jailhouse Witness Law would mean that jailed informants would be up to a lot more scrutiny when it comes to their testimonials in other cases.

Potential Concerns About The Jailhouse Witness Law

However, some prosecutors believed that his law could raise other problems. They thought this law would require every potential jailhouse witness to be questioned by a judge.

The Innocence Project states that the new law will only help prevent cases like Swinton’s and Miguel Roman, who had to spend 20 years in jail after being punished for murdering his girlfriend. In this case, the conviction was based on a jailhouse witness’s testimony that Roman confessed to the crime when he was being held while waiting for his trial. The witness said he did not receive anything for his cooperation in the trial. But prosecutors dismissed his larceny charges and recommended time served after the trial. However, after two decades, it was proved through DNA testing that Roman was not the killer.

This new law was signed by Gov. Ned Lamont and is a part of the Innocence Project’s work to exonerate innocent people and address the system’s flaws that lead to wrongful convictions in the first place.

Consult With a Connecticut Bail Bondsman For More

Like the new Jailhouse Witness Law, Connecticut Bail Bonds Group always puts justice and the needs of its local clients first. If you or a loved one has been arrested in Hartford County, contact our bail bondsmen today.