Witness Protection: it is a common buzzword in crime dramas and movies, but it is a very real thing you might find yourself a part of if you have relevant information about a severe case. As much as the government is willing to protect you and your family from danger, there is no saying they will protect your legal interests—that is why it is important to have a lawyer on your side ahead of any witness testimony you give. Read on to learn more about:
- Witness Protection: What It Is and How You May Qualify;
- The Risks and Fears Surrounding Protection from Danger; and
- Finding The Ideal Attorney to Help You Prepare for Trial.
A Comprehensive Overview of Witness Protection in the United States
The Federal Witness Security Program (or WITSEC) has roots dating back to 1960 when organized crime (especially mob-related crime) ran rampant with US Attorneys looking to take every avenue to stop it. Since then, any witnesses living under the protection of the United States Marshals Service, and as of 2020, approximately 19,000 witnesses and their family members have been protected by the U.S. Marshals Service since its official establishment in the early 1970s.
Who are ideal candidates for WITSEC? Witnesses whose possible court testimonies put their lives in danger. However, it is not even that simple. Not only would your testimony prove life-threatening, but it also needs to be essential to the case at hand and credible. There is also no going back once you agree to testify. It is a requirement of your protection you give testimony in court.
There are also a handful of cases where possible witnesses may be admitted into the program, as defined by the U.S. Attorney General’s office. These include witnesses against
- Any organized crime or racketeering offense;
- Any drug trafficking offense;
- Any federal felony or state offense that may lead to violence or threats of violence against the witness; or
- Civil and administrative proceedings testimonies that may endanger a witness.
You may know a few things about WITSEC from organized crime-themed TV or Movies; they usually get quite a bit right, surprisingly. Families do assume new identities and receive all new documentation, housing, and even living assistance from the government in order for them to avoid detection and stay under the radar. There is also armed 24-hour protection for the witness when they get their day in court to testify.
For those incarcerated, there exist Protective Custody Units within prison units overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, rather than the US Marshalls.
Of course, both options far outweigh going at it by yourself without any protection. You should still consider the many risks associated with WITSEC before accepting any offers from the government.
Know the Relevant Risks: What May Stem from Taking Protection
In interrogation or on the stand, you need to realize there are ways the government may seek to incriminate you, especially if you do not have an immunity guarantee. We mentioned earlier that to qualify for WITSEC, your testimony must be credible and consistent, meaning authorities need to have full confidence in the truth and validity of your testimony to grant you protection in the first place.
There is no denying that entering WITSEC is a big decision. The protection that comes from it may be enticing for you and your family, but depending on the weight of your testimony, you may grow fearful of any future harm. Paranoia may increase leading up to your day in court, which may lead you to have doubts over whether you should even testify. Your mental state matters and is something you should consider ahead of accepting any offers. However, if you make a deliberate choice not to testify, the government may charge you with obstruction of justice, which may carry up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Additionally, you may face perjury charges if you make a statement inconsistent with your previous deposition. This may carry up to 10 years in prison if the government accuses you of making a false statement.
In any case, you need to consult a lawyer before testifying to prevent against incriminating yourself on the stand. Anything that may damage your reputation or lead to a criminal charge is worth avoiding, and you should talk out your options with your attorney ahead of time to make sure your testimony doesn’t implicate you.
Communication with your attorney is key when it comes to WITSEC-related issues and your testimony. However, you first need to find the right lawyer to get you the help you need.
Finding the Attorney Who Helps You Get Protection
When you are looking for a lawyer to get you into witness protection, you should focus on finding someone who can help you do a few things—the principle of which is learning about the law surrounding your case. A lawyer who distills the law into something you can understand has your interests at heart. They have your best interests at heart and want you to prepare for the road ahead.
Listen: WITSEC will protect you and your family from violence, but they cannot protect you from legal consequences. In any case of testifying, there is a chance you bring criminal charges against yourself that lead to life-changing difficulties.
To prevent against this, your attorney will rehearse your testimony time and time again with you to ensure consistency and that you do not accidentally criminalize yourself. It is not uncommon for your lawyer to mock a cross-examination, so you know what questions to expect.
More importantly, your lawyer will fight for your safety no matter the step of the process. They will help get you into WITSEC, get you immunity to keep you safe from prosecution post-testimony, and, if necessary, ask the courts to put you into protective custody.
Got something to say but need the legal backing to say it? Contact our offices for a free initial consultation. If you fear for your family’s safety ahead of an anticipated testimony, you should seek out legal help immediately. The only way to get the leg-up on your future is to be prepared and use every resource at your disposal. Hiring an attorney is a great place to start.