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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(74) Additionally, it argued that the mere fact that a jury "might disbelieve some of the State's evidence" does not entitle the defendant to an instruction for a lesser included offense.
Stewart and his brother David Ian Stewart have both turned state's evidence, receiving a reduced sentence in return for their co-operation with the authorities in the case.
Two of his co-defendants, including one who also turned state's evidence, pleaded guilty in the fatal beating of Mr.
In his final statement, prosecutor Eric Sussman insisted that the government's star witness was not its best known -- former Chicago Sun-Times Publisher David Radler, who turned state's evidence in exchange for a lighter sentence in a plea bargain -- but newspaper chain publishers such as GateHouse Media CEO Mike Reed, who testified he never asked for a non-compete agreement.
He also turned State's evidence and was put on the witness protection programme and is now living abroad.
In the movie, the student turns state's evidence on his boss because he finally figures out that the foolishness of his blue-collar father and life in humble New Jersey aren't foolish at all.
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.
Justice Stevens also suggested that innocent people might be convicted because state judges in capital cases must stand for re-election, creating "a subtle bias in favor of death." Clearly judges who must convince voters that they're tough on murderers may be less inclined to challenge a lawyer who hasn't thoroughly investigated a case, hired the necessary experts, raised the most obvious objections to the state's evidence, or adequately cross-examined state witnesses or put up ones of his own.
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.
The idea that a prisoner was denied the right to make his defense by counsel grew to be considered "wholly unfair." Rectifying that injustice, it turns out, led to the creation of the modern criminal defense lawyer who is expected to put the state's evidence to the test, and seek not only the truth, but justice for the accused.
At press time, Eckert was preparing for a hearing to determine the fate of the state's evidence in the case.

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