Prosecutor's Can Jail Witnesses for Failing to Testify

Posted by Keith Hall | Jan 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

Many times people ask me what will happen if a witness in a criminal case does not want to testify, or offers differing testimony from what the police allege in their own reports.  Sometimes people just don't want to get involved in a criminal case, although they initially called police or made a statement.  Other times, they offer an initial statement that was untruthful, perhaps by mistake, or perhaps due to intoxication or the desire to get someone in trouble.  

When a witnesses or victim offers a different story at a later date, it may or may not be believed.  Often times police, prosecutors, and judges believe that people change their stories later on, so that someone does not get in legal trouble, or because they were pressured to change their story by the accused.  Whether they are believed, depends very much on the individual circumstances of the case, and of the reason for the change of story. 

As criminal defense attorneys, we often argue for dismissal of particular charges or even whole cases, based on these changes in witnesses participation or stories.  Conversely, prosecuting attorneys are often opposing these motions, and even threaten to jail witnesses or victims with a "material witness warrant", when they are unwilling to testify.  We at times represent witnesses or victims in these cases, who are themselves at risk of jail for their unwillingness to testify.

There is a movement in some jurisdictions, to stop jailing victims or witnesses, as it only re victimizes them.  The criminal justice system often times in so focused on "convictions" that it loses sight of the reasons that people call the police.  They call for help, and if their lives are made worse by calling for help, they are less willing to call for help in the future and lost faith in the police and courts.  There was an interesting article about this movement, in a recent article in USA Today, that you can read here.  

If you need help either as a defendant, or as a victim or witness, contact our office for a consultation today.  

About the Author

Keith Hall

Keith is our firm's lead criminal defense attorney.

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