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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Does the Confrontation Clause Allow Me to Threaten Your Life?

Reputed mob figure (and son of the late Mafia leader John Gotti Sr.) John Gotti Jr. may face an additional federal prosecution stemming from alleged threats he made against the main prosecution witness against him this week in Manhattan federal court, according to this New York Post report.

The charges could be obstruction of justice and/or witness intimidation.   It is alleged that Gotti mouthed to the witness a threat to kill him, and did so in open court as the witness was walking near the defense table.

The Sixth Amendment is supposed to guarantee criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers.   Impediments to this confrontation right can encourage wayward witnesses to commit perjury, among other things.   However, the confrontation clause does not permit witness intimidation, and the allegations (if true) would seem to fit within that definition.   Threatening to kill someone -- when you're a defendant facing murder charges -- probably isn't constitutionally-protected behavior.

This alleged incident raises several questions:  What is the defendant allowed to do in the course of his right to confront the witnesses against him?  Is a stare-down a prosecutable offense?   Why is the defendant failing to show a decent amount of self-control at one of the most important times in his life?   Why is the witness being paraded anywhere near the defendant?   Is the government trying to incite or provoke the defendant?   Should that be allowed?   Or was this supposedly mouthed comment just theatrics?  

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