On Monday Feb. 13, 2012, the Florida Innocence Commission met at the Supreme Court of Florida. The meeting focused on two of the major contributing factors of wrongful convictions: informants/jailhouse snitches and improper/invalid scientific evidence. The first several hours of the meeting were spent discussing the various options available to the Commission with regard to snitches.
The Commission considered giving recommendations for a set of detailed jury instructions in the case of informant testimony, instituting a rule requiring pretrial screenings to determine the reliability of informants, and amending the discovery rules in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 3.220). Ultimately, a majority of the Commission decided against recommending pretrial reliability hearings. Commission member Mary Barzee-Flores asserted that it would be inappropriate for the courts to exclude witnesses from testifying because they were deemed unreliable. She said, “it is in the province of the jury to determine whether or not a given witnesses testimony is reliable.” The Commission was, however, in favor of creating a special jury instruction to be used in cases with informant testimony. The Commission moved to recommend the use of an instruction informing juries that some witnesses, like informants or snitches, may have been offered certain things (such as safety from prosecution in another case), in exchange for their testimony and should thus be treated with more caution than the testimony of other witnesses.
The Commission also moved to have a subcommittee that has previously discussed amending the discovery Rules of Criminal Procedure to continue discussing the language to be used in amending that rule.
The next meeting will take place in Orlando on March 12 at 9:30 a.m. The Commission will continue discussing improper/invalid science and the possibly reforms to prevent their use as evidence in trials. The commission will continue meeting until June 2012, when they will release their final report detailing their findings and recommendations.