Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner on Friday issued interim guidelines to govern the use of jail-house informants by prosecutors during an internal investigation into successful murder prosecutions that relied on confessions that could have been fabricated by informants.
The extraordinary review was ordered after one jail-house informant, Leslie White, demonstrated how he could obtain over the telephone details about a pending murder case that could then be used to falsely incriminate a jailed suspect. Typically, informants who testify against another inmate do so in exchange for leniency in their own cases.
As a result of White’s demonstration, Reiner’s office last week began reviewing every murder prosecution in the last 10 years in which the testimony of a jail-house informant may have played a role that led to the conviction of another inmate.
In some of those cases, White served as a prosecution witness. But he has said he never testified falsely.
From now on, before relying on the testimony of a jail-house informant to help prosecute a criminal case, each of the county’s more than 800 deputy district attorneys must obtain the approval of one of Reiner’s three directors of criminal prosecutions.
Reiner said such requests must be authorized on a case-by-case basis by Richard Hecht, director of the branch and area operations who is leading the internal investigation; John Lynch, director of central operations, or R. Dan Murphy, director of special operations.
Until now, Reiner said, individual prosecutors could decide for themselves whether to use a jail-house informant although many often have consulted with their head deputies anyway.
“Jail-house informants obviously have been used forever and everywhere,” Reiner said in an interview Friday, in which he made his first public comments on the White controversy. “The test has always been: These must be independent evidence that corroborates what the informant has said. That has always been the criteria.
“We never rely just on the credibility of the jail-house informant. There must be independent evidence that objectively corroborates what an informant has said. That is still
“It would not be appropriate to use the jail-house informant when you cannot independently establish credibility.”
Reiner said the number of criminal prosecutions in which jail-house informants are used is “infinitesimally small.” But, he added, “that doesn’t mean that it is insignificant. It comes up in some important, serious cases.”
After Hecht’s “careful review” of informant cases, Reiner said his office will take “appropriate action.” But Reiner said it would be “premature” to specify what those actions might be. “We’re looking into everything,” he said.
Reiner said the review “shouldn’t take too long. Information is coming in now. And when all the information is in, we’re going to make everything available . . . to the attorneys involved.”
Reiner also has asked defense lawyers to alert his office to cases in which jail-house informants served as prosecution witnesses.
He also said Friday that he is “fully confident” that Hecht will ably conduct the review, thus obviating any need to bring into the investigation an outside agency, such as the attorney general’s office. The suggestion of involving an independent agency in the investigation was made this week by Public Defender Wilbur Littlefield, whose office represents indigent criminal defendants.
Also as a result of the White controversy, Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregory Thompson earlier this week ordered all county prosecutors to begin immediately limiting the information they give out over the telephone.
White, in his demonstration, posed on the telephone as a variety of law-enforcement authorities as he obtained little-known details about a murder case--information that could then be used to make up a “confession” by the jailed suspect in the case.