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Federal Witness Protection Program: Its Evolution and Continuing Growing Pains

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Ethics Volume: 16 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer/Fall 1997 Pages: 20-34
R N Slate
Date Published
15 pages
Following a description of the processing of protected witnesses under the Federal Witness Protection Program (WPP), this paper reviews the history and development of the WPP, considers the issue of protected witnesses who have violated and evaded the law while in the program, explains the Witness Security Reform Act of 1984, discusses ethical questions raised by the WPP, and offers recommendations for the program.
With witness protection in mind, the WPP was established as part of Title V of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. It provided for the health, safety, and welfare of witnesses (and their families) who offered valuable testimony in organized crime proceedings. Some criticisms of the program include the charge that for those in the program the fundamental rights of privacy and personal autonomy, freedom of association, freedom of travel, and liberty are abrogated as a result of entrance into the WPP. The significance of this infringement on rights, however, is diminished by the fact that almost all protected witnesses have serious criminal records. This presents another problem, that is, witnesses with criminal backgrounds continuing to commit crimes under the protection of the WPP. This has occasioned court cases being brought by persons victimized by some in the WPP; such action is brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Witness Security Reform Act of 1984 sought to address this problem by stipulating that witness "protection is prohibited where the need for a person's testimony is outweighed by the risk of danger to the public." Even with all the provisions incorporated within the Witness Security Reform Act of 1984, however, Sammy the Bull Gravano, who recently testified under Federal protection at the trial of reputed mob boss Vincent Gigante, was shielded from civil process servers by the presiding judge. This paper recommends that further research be devoted to providing a better assessment of the costs and benefits of the WPP without compromising the necessary secrecy and sensitivity of the WPP. It also suggests that a special committee be formed to scrutinize the decisions of those who are involved in the selection, processing, treatment, and monitoring of WPP participants. Finally, regardless of a witness' desire to leave the WPP, the government should be authorized to monitor anyone who has ever entered the WPP. Participants may refuse protection, but should be required to report at specified intervals to governmental authorities. 140 notes


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