What's The Deal With Recanted Testimony

I got to thinking about this after reading about Troy Davis and how the people that testified against him took back their statements that helped convicted him of killing a cop.

I couldn’t find much in my old law books, but what stand do the courts take on this? On one hand if someone lied under oath, it seems unfair if that lie helped convict someone. On the other hand if the liar isn’t prosecuted for perjury it seems unfair as well.

I looked online and most of the references seem to indicate courts have discounted recanted testimony as grounds for opening a new trial as a “Waste of time.”

So anyone know some of the rulings WHY the courts refused to accept recanted testimony versus some of the ruling WHY they have accepted recanted testimony

I’m speculating until someone knowledgeable comes along, but my assumption would be that the courts would look for indicia of reliability. The question always has to be, “was the witness lying back when he testified, or is he lying now when recants?”

The prior testimony was presumably under oath, so if the recantation is unsworn, a court might discount its value on that basis. If the recantation is in the form of a sworn declaration, however, it might carry more weight. Also, it probably would increase reliability if the recantation explained why the witness lied in the earlier testimony (revenge, pressure from prosecutors, family issues, etc.)

Recanted testimony is always looked at askance, particularly in serious criminal cases. When was the witness lying, then or now? Was she subject to pressure, nerves or a troubled conscience the first time or the second (or third, or fourth…)? Courts want to see that justice is done, but also place some value on finality, so that the judgment of a court is not forever subject to second thoughts, reopening, reexamination, etc.