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Relocating Intimidated Witnesses: An Underutilized Protection Approach

NCJ Number
Prosecutor Volume: 30 Issue: 6 Dated: November/December 1996 Pages: 24-36
P Finn; K M Healey
Date Published
9 pages
This article examines methods several prosecution offices have successfully used to relocate witnesses and describes three levels of witness relocation--emergency relocation, short-term or temporary relocation, and permanent relocation.
Information was obtained from telephone interviews with 32 criminal justice professionals in 20 urban jurisdictions; telephone interviews with 4 to 6 criminal justice system professionals in four other jurisdictions (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia); site interviews with over 50 practitioners in Baltimore, Des Moines, New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia; and conversations with several officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Findings revealed that prosecutors used two principal approaches to emergency and short-term witness relocation: (1) maintain witnesses and their families in hotels and motels for the duration of the threat or until a permanent option can be found; and (2) relocate witnesses and their families to temporary out-of-town accommodations with a monthly lease arrangement. For many prosecutors, the first and sometimes only short-term relocation option was to offer the witness a bus or plane ticket out of town. The relocation of juvenile witnesses posed special difficulties, particularly because these witnesses often did not have the self-restraint needed to avoid their old neighborhoods and needed constant family support. Permanent witness relocation was relatively straightforward when witnesses were willing to stay in new locations and abide by program rules regarding communication with friends and relatives from former neighborhoods. Issues involved in temporary witness relocation are examined, including the special needs of witnesses, how far away witnesses should be relocated, how long witnesses should remain relocated, and who pays the rent. The Federal Witness Security Program and public housing programs that can be used in structuring a witness relocation program are discussed. 1 endnote and 1 figure