Witnesses to violent crime are often hesitant to testify in court or give information to the police because they fear retaliation against themselves or their family.
However, if the governor signs Senate Bill 640, which was passed this General Assembly Session by both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate, those fears may be alleviated and more witnesses could be willing to step forward and testify.
Delegate Peter Farrell, 56th Legislative District, and Senator Tom Garrett, 22nd District, supported passage of the bill for those very reasons.
“I believe when citizens testify and help the judicial process in a way which may result in personal danger to the witness,” said Farrell, “they should have the right to ensure the nondisclosure of their address and other personal information from the public.”
The law currently protects witnesses of gang-related crimes by allowing them to request confidentiality of their personal information. The new bill would extend those same protections to witnesses of crimes such as the manufacturing, sale or distribution of drugs, and violent felonies such as homicide, assault or sexual assault.
“If we expect good people to come forward and help us convict and imprison the most heinous among us, we owe them the consideration of their protection,” Garrett said.
According to Garrett, there have been numerous instances in which witnesses and their families were harassed or even killed because of what they knew and were willing to tell jurors. The senator believes it is the duty of the state, to the extent it is able, to provide witnesses protection.
To read the entire story, see the March 13 edition of The Central Virginian.