The program often does this by providing witnesses with a new identity that cannot be traced back to their old one. Some of these witnesses are criminals themselves and are given immunity from prosecution in exchange for their cooperation.
Is the immunity broadly given, such that the witness is immune for prosecution for any crime? Or is it given only for specific crimes? Can the witness be brought up on charges for newly discovered crimes? For example, it was found that the witness committed an unknown, undisclosed murder, can he be charged? What about lesser offenses, citations, and ordinances? Are they free from outstanding parking and speeding tickets?
I understand that the Federal Authorities keep close tabs on witnesses in the program, so for serious, federal matters – they can be found. But what about a state matter? Can the state force the federal government to allow prosecution?
I can take a guess at the answers above, but I wonder if anyone actually knows for sure.
My second question is related to civil matters. Is it possible for a citizen to sue someone in the witness protection program for something that occurred before they entered the program? Is there a way for a private citizen to get restitution from a witness after they have entered the program or are they out of luck? For example, if the witness owes a building contractor, can the contractor put a lien on the house or otherwise guarantee he gets paid?
CaveMike, I am certainly no expert, but I remember reading about a mafia guy who testified against his former mob buddies in exchange for immunity and enrollement in the WPP…
Several years after this, he was arrested in Arizona, (where he and his family had been seceretly relocated to) and charged with being an Ecstasy kingpin, dealing millions of dollars worth, all while still in witness protection.
Somehow, it came out who his true (mafia) identity was; I recall a lot of people were outraged that a former mob killer was living on the taxpayers dime, all the while getting rich slinging X.
ETA—After re-reading your post, my example dosent look to be much insight for you—Sorry!!!
If you can find him, you can sue him. The need to find your defendant in order to serve him with proceedings is a regular barrier to taking proceedings, but it’s likely to be a bigger barrier if your defendant has disappeared into the witness protection program. It’s not likely that the Feds would co-operate to help you find him.
Thanks, it is interesting nonetheless. The wiki link mentions that the rate of re-offenses is 17% compared to 40% for non-WPP criminals. It makes sense that the rate would be lower though considering the witnesses are specifically monitored.
In some cases, it would be known that a witness entered the program, right? A witness might testify at a publicized trial and then he and his family ‘evaporate’. Is there a mechanism by which you can sue this person? Or is there a way to compel the federal government to cooperate?
For example, Nicole Brown’s family sued O.J. for effectively her murder. Consider a crime that was granted immunity from federal prosecution – can it still be subject to a civil case?
Yes, there is; the same mechanism by which you can sue anyone else. You issue and serve proceedings.
Well, the link from Hirundo82 says that they will co-operate. But I suspect that means that, if you succeed in serving, they won’t prevent the defendant from turning up to answer the claim. And if you serve, e.g., a witness summons, they’ll bring him along. But I doubt if they will serve the summons for you; hell, they won’t even confirm or deny that your defendant is in the witness protection program. They’ll co-operate with law enforcment authorities and court agencies, which I think is not the same as co-operationg with provate individuals who have a dispute that they want to litigate.
I would think so, yes. Immunity from prosecution binds the state, preventing it from acting in a particular way. I don’t see that it would bind private individuals.
OJ does in fact have immunity (not because it was granted by an executive act, but under the double jeopardy rule) but that didn’t stop a civil action for wrongful death.
Shouldn’t be that hard to get a court order compelling them to testify or answer your complaint or appear or whatever, then.
The relocated witness gets lots of new stuff paid for and gets a stipend from Uncle Sam until they find a job. I’d guess that being able to live a comfortable lifestyle on the up-and-up is all it takes to keep most from reoffending.
By “them” you mean the defendant you want to sue, not the offiicial who operate the witness protection programme, right?
Actually, it’s quite hard. To start your legal proceedings, you need to issue and serve a writ, summons, or whatever it may be called in the relevant jurisdiction. Until you have done that, you can;t really make much progress, or get other orders. You can apply for an order for substituted service (e.g. by pubishing the writ in a newspaper, by giving it to the defendant’s associates) if you have reason to think that the defendant is deliberately avoiding you in order to frustrate your court proceedings. But if you simly cannot find him, and if you have reason to think that he is lying low for reasons which are not avoiding being served with your writ (e.g. he is avoiding his former friends in the Mob), you could have a problem getting an order for substituted service.
There is no way that you will get an order compelling the Feds to serve your proceedings for you, if only because you will be unable to prove that your defendant is in the Witness Protection Programme, and therefore that the Feds can reach him.