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Evading Justice: The Pervasive Nature of Witness Intimidation

NCJ Number
John Wilkinson, J.D.; Christopher Mallios, J.D.; Rhonda Martinson, J.D.
Date Published
March 2013
3 pages
This overview of witness intimidation first defines it and then discusses the following related issues: the characteristics of perpetrators and targets, where witness intimidation occurs, how it impacts the criminal justice system, and what can be done to counter it.
"Witness intimidation" can include "any conduct that discourages witnesses from meaningfully participating in the various stages of the criminal justice process." Typically, the defendant in the case initiates witness intimidation in order to either keep the witness from testifying at trial or providing incriminating information to investigators. The witnesses targeted are those whom the perpetrator perceives as having incriminating information or observations that increase the likelihood he/she will be identified as a suspect, arrested, or be convicted of the crime. Intimidation can and has occurred wherever a victim, witness, or criminal justice practitioner is located. Intimidators will go anywhere that the target can be accessed, including where the target lives, works, or spends leisure time. Several studies have shown that witness intimidation does succeed in reducing meaningful participation in a case by victims and witnesses, resulting in decreased offender accountability, the undermining of the justice process, and a threat to public safety. Research on the nature, prevalence, and methods of witness intimidation must underlie the development of strategies to counter it. Traditional responses to witness intimidation include vigorous prosecutions, witness relocation programs, intensive monitoring of offenders, and upgrades in courtroom safety. In addition, witnesses and victims should be informed about the potential for intimidation; the importance of reporting it; methods that might be used; and the recording of times, places, events, and individuals involved in intimidation. 19 notes