Personal tools

Home > The Causes > Informants
Share This:



In 15% of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, statements from people with incentives to testify — particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury — were critical evidence used to convict an innocent person.

Larry PetersonLarry Peterson on the day of his release from prison.

The Framing of Larry Peterson

Larry Peterson was wrongly convicted in 1989 of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison. Four people – three of Peterson’s co-workers and a jailhouse informant – helped the state convict Peterson with false testimony. During an investigation of the crime, police interviewed some of Peterson’s co-workers several times. After lengthy interrogations, threats of prosecution and other questionable police tactics, the three men said Peterson had confessed to them during a ride to work. Records have since shown that Peterson did not work on the day these men said the confession occurred. A jailhouse informant with charges pending in three counties also testified that Peterson had admitted guilt to him while in the county jail. DNA finally proved Peterson’s innocence in 2005 and he was exonerated in 2006.

>Read his story


CONTENTS: Overview | Resources


DNA exonerations have shown that informants lie on the stand. To many, this news isn’t a surprise. Testifying falsely in exchange for an incentive – either money or a sentence reduction – is often the last resort for a desperate inmate. For someone who is not in prison already, but who wants to avoid being charged with a crime, providing false testimony may be a desperate measure to avoid incarceration.

People have been wrongfully convicted in cases in which incentivized witnesses:

  • Have been paid to testify
  • Have testified in exchange for their release from prison
  • Have testified in multiple distinct cases that they have evidence of guilt, through overhearing a confession or witnessing the crime

In some cases, informants come forward voluntarily, often seeking deals or special treatment. But sometimes law enforcement officials seek out informants and give them extensive background on cases — essentially feeding them the information they need to provide false testimony.

Incentivized witnesses continue to testify in courtrooms around the country today. In some cases without biological evidence, the incentivized witness’ testimony is the only evidence of guilt.

Vital reforms are needed to ensure that unreliable incentivized witnesses are not given undue weight by juries.

Read the full recommendations in our fact sheet on incentivized testimony.

Landmark Study

In 2005, the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago issued a report, “The Snitch System: How Incentivized Witnesses Put 38 Innocent Americans on Death Row.” The study provides a comprehensive look at the problem of informant testimony, and describes in detail how the use of informant testimony contributed to the conviction of specific innocent defendants.


Join the Movement

Join with the 65,000 people who are committed to helping free the innocent.