State's Evidence

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State's Evidence

A colloquial term for testimony given by an Accomplice or joint participant in the commission of a crime, subject to an agreement that the person will be granted Immunity from prosecution if she voluntarily, completely, and fairly discloses her own guilt as well as that of the other participants.

State's evidence is slang for testimony given by criminal defendants to prosecutors about other alleged criminals. A criminal defendant may agree to provide assistance to prosecutors in exchange for an agreement from the prosecutor that he will not be prosecuted. This agreement is commonly called turning state's evidence.

A criminal defendant who turns state's evidence may be offered a plea bargain or may have all criminal charges against him dismissed, depending on the nature of the case against the testifying defendant and the largesse of the prosecutor. A prosecutor may give a testifying defendant full immunity, which means the defendant cannot be charged with any crime related to the testimony he provides. A lesser form of immunity is called use immunity. Use immunity means that the prosecutor agrees only that she will not use any of the testimony given by the testifying defendant in any subsequent prosecution of that defendant.

Turning state's evidence plays an important role in the criminal justice system, in large part because the system is overwhelmed by criminal prosecutions. To ease the caseload, prosecutors regularly exercise their power to offer to drop or decrease charges in exchange for a plea of guilty. Another by-product of the backlog of cases is that prosecutors are most concerned with successfully prosecuting the most dangerous criminals. For these reasons, prosecutors commonly ask petty criminal defendants who have access to other alleged criminals to obtain evidence from the criminals.

For instance, assume that a person who has been arrested for possession of marijuana is willing to work with law enforcement to obtain inculpatory evidence from the dealer of the marijuana. To do so, the defendant would return to the dealer after the arrest, purchase marijuana in a transaction monitored by law enforcement, and then give the marijuana to the authorities as evidence.

A prosecutor may drop charges against a petty criminal in exchange for substantial assistance to law enforcement authorities in the prosecution of more dangerous criminals. Alternatively, a prosecutor may offer a plea bargain and ask the court to impose a sentence that is less severe than the sentence normally imposed for the crime.

State and federal sentencing statutes govern the effect of providing substantial assistance. Courts usually follow the recommendations of the prosecutor, but they are not obliged to do so. On the federal level, for example, section 5K1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines states that a court may evaluate the significance and usefulness of the assistance rendered by the defendant, the truthfulness and reliability of the defendant, the nature of the defendant's assistance, and other factors in determining whether to impose a relatively light sentence.

Further readings

Bloom, Robert M. 2002. Ratting: The Use and Abuse of Informants in the American Justice System. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.


Criminal Law; Criminal Procedure; Plea Bargaining.

References in periodicals archive ?
They have likened the case to the so-called "supergrass" trials in the 1980s, which saw both loyalist and republican paramilitaries jailed on the evidence of former colleagues who turned state's evidence.
Initially Hadjigeorgiou himself had denied all involvement but once he turned state's evidence he implicated former Sigma TV presenter Elena Skordelli, and her brother Tasos Krasopoulis as the alleged masterminds behind the hit.
According to the Ninth Circuit, the state's evidence of discrimination was insufficient because, among other things:
The Government made this explicitly clear in both the Secretary of State's evidence to the Education Select Committee and also in a subsequent parliamentary answer.
Following the gunning down of journalist Veronica Guerin, the programme was established in 1997 to encourage members of organised crime gangs to turn state's evidence against their former colleagues.
At press time, Eckert was preparing for a hearing to determine the fate of the state's evidence in the case.
So they are deciding to turn state's evidence, against themselves and others.
He shot to notoriety in 1980 when he broke the sacred Mafiacode of silence -Omerta -and turned state's evidence on senior members of the notorious Lucchese crime family to escape a prison sentence for drug pushing.
He shot to not or iety in 1980 when he turned state's evidence on the Lucchese crime family to escape a jail sentence.
They were guys who had either turned State's evidence or been busted," says Norton.
It seems her husband got mixed up with his brother's drug dealings but then had misgivings and turned state's evidence.

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