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U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and DA Soares Hold Press Conference on Witness Intimidation

October 01, 2012

Albany County District Attorney David Soares

 

 

 

 

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and DA

 

Soares Hold Press Conference on

 

Witness Intimidation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALBANY, NY – District Attorney P. David Soares and United States Senator Chuck Schumer held a joint press conference on witness intimidation in criminal cases. Senator Schumer highlighted recent legislation that he introduced in the U.S. Senate that is designed to protect witnesses who cooperate with the police and the District Attorney’s Office.

 

The bill, known as The State Witness Protection Act, would make it a federal crime to intimidate a witness in a criminal case.  Senator Schumer explained the lack of cooperation with law enforcement usually arises during gang related incidents such as shootings, robberies and other violent assaults due to the fear of retribution by fellow gang members for cooperating with law enforcement.  Because of this, these criminal cases cannot move forward and prosecute those responsible.

 

Senator Schumer's legislation would increase the potential maximum penalty to 30 years in prison in cases of attempted murder or physical violence against a witness, and increase the potential maximum sentence to 20 years in jail for other types of witness intimidation, such as causing a person to withhold testimony as well as prevent communication of information of the crime to a law enforcement official or a judge.  Also, the legislation would cover cases involving interstate or foreign commerce, either through communication, personal travel, or the transfer of a weapon.

 

Senator Schumer also discussed another reason for the lack of cooperation of witnesses, which he believes is the cultural stigma associated with being labeled a “snitch” or a “rat”. Senator Schumer targeted those who propagate this mentality.  At one point during the press conference, Senator Schumer held up a shirt purchased in Albany County that had a pair of brass knuckles above the message “Snitches Get Stiches”, further proof, Senator Schumer contends, of the intimidation those who cooperate with law enforcement face on a daily basis.

 

“Testifying against a violent offender often puts a bulls-eye on a witness’ back. Authorities here in Albany and throughout the region are seeing more cases in which witnesses fail to come forward. Too often witnesses to violent crimes pretend not to see anything for fear of retribution for cooperating with law enforcement. The culture scares witnesses into silence and allows criminals to continue to commit crimes in our community. We have to do more to ensure that criminals think twice before they intimidate a witness. We must send a crystal clear message that the Federal Government will help local law enforcement punish criminals and protect witnesses,” explained Senator Schumer.

 

In Albany County, there have been several cases involving witness intimidation. One such instance was the 2008 shooting of an 11 year old girl, who was killed by a stray bullet fired by Jermayne Timmons, who was aiming at a rival gang member. The witnesses in this case were threatened by those in the community who believed in the anti-snitching message and required the relocation of cooperating witnesses out of the area for their own safety. In one of the most chilling public incidents of witness intimidation in Albany County, a YouTube video showed an individual reading from a Grand Jury transcript that clearly shows a cooperating witnesses involvement in a criminal investigation and label him and snitch and a rat. In this video there is also reference to retaliation against another cooperator, who was subsequently shot in the head.

 

“The criminal justice system cannot be compromised by individuals who are committing crimes and then benefiting from their crimes by intimidating those in our community. Talking with prosecutors from all around the state, this is an issue that we have been grappling with, and now with Senator Schumer’s proposal to strengthen these laws we can more effectively protect those who come forward with information pertaining to criminal cases,” commented DA Soares.

 

 

For more information please contact Cecilia Logue (518) 275-4710.

 

 

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