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Friday, December 18, 2009
How To Commit Perjury: Claim You've Been Intimidated
Today the outgoing New Jersey attorney general offered up some very misguided commentary regarding a State Senate bill that allows for witnesses who claim to be intimidated by defendants charged with a narrow band of violent crimes to offer into evidence written statements, thereby circumventing the Sixth Amendment right to "be confronted with the witnesses against" oneself.
The way to protect witnesses is to sequester them, give them police protection and, if necessary, relocate them. The obstacles to this are that these things cost money and require effort -- a.k.a. "elbow grease."
I suspect it's the effort -- and money -- which are the problem. As is often the case with government, sometimes it's just "more convenient" to trample on time-honored constitutional rights enjoyed by us mere people. Invoking "witness intimidation" is just a politically-saleable way to violate the rights of a few unfortunate people -- acceptable collateral damage in the minds of many who think it will never be "them" -- in order to appear "tough on crime" and appeal more to the "know-nothing" element of the electorate. Remember this principle the next time you think America is that much more advanced than the Middle East.
Instead, we have the top law enforcement officer in New Jersey pushing for witnesses to be allowed to testify without having to be "confronted" by the defendants. As a result, some witnesses will claim they are "intimidated," and being able to avoid facing their defendant / victim will embolden them to lie. That shouldn't be a surprise. Anonymity gives people a false sense of security. And society is full of gutless people who will say anything on a piece of paper.
Expect a big increase in perjury. Soon to be followed by an increase in wrongful convictions.
True cases of witness intimidation often will get ferreted out. However, even in violent crime cases there is a big risk of false testimony, and being able to avoid a courtroom cross-examination emboldens people who want to give false testimony. This isn't just a danger in criminal cases; this can happen in civil cases as well. Imagine what can happen in divorce cases when there is a very vindictive party.
Recently a young woman from Union City, NJ just admitted that she falsely testified that she was raped, and the man she fingered -- completely falsely -- did five years in New York State prison as a result. She is now facing prosecution and likely jail time. How many more cases must we see before we realize that the risk of wrongful conviction based on perjured testimony is great?
The Founding Fathers saw the abuses under British colonial rule. That's why the Bill of Rights (the Sixth Amendment) allows for defendants to confront their witnesses.