material witnesses

I’ve heard about the FBI holding people as material witnesses for seve3ral weeks. How is that possible? I thought that a person must be charged with a crime within 48 hours (or a similar time limit) or be released. And just why does it take several weeks to question these people?

The rule regarding material witnesses varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Generally, the rule is that the government must show by preponderance of the evidence that a person is (a) a witness, (b) whose testimony is necessary for trial, and is © such a strong flight risk that securing his presence by subpoena alone is insufficient.

There is a public obligation to provide evidence in a criminal trial. (See U.S. v. Bryan, 339 U.S. 323; Blackmer v. U.S., 284 U.S. 421). This obligation exists no matter how burdensome it may be. Nearly every witness appearing pursuant to a subpoena suffers some inconvenience or financial hardship.

In short, the detention of a material witness is permissible - see Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, if such detention is the only reasonable way to ensure his appearance at trial, or in front of a grand jury.

  • Rick