ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Police Chief Sam Dotson is sounding the warning about witness intimidation, after a judge ruled criminal defendants have a right to see the full police report with the names and addresses of victims and witnesses.
Dotson says the issue isn’t hypothetical, that it’s already happening in some cases.
“Just recently a mother whose son was accused of a crime tried to intimidate witnesses to keep them from participating,” Dotson said.
The ruling this week means accused criminals sitting in jail awaiting trial can look at police reports to get the personal information on victims and witnesses.
“Under our Constitution you have a right to know the people that are accusing you,” Dotson said. “But I don’t know if you have a right for their social security number, their birth date, their phone number, their home address.”
The ruling was applauded by Public Defender Mary Fox, who says it will help the defense prepare for trial.
“All we want to do is talk to the witnesses, see if what they have to say matches what the police report says,” Fox said, “see if they have any information that is helpful to our client, any information that is harmful to our client.”
In the past, the St.Louis Circuit Attorney has blotted out the personal information of witnesses and victims on police reports. Meetings between the defense and the victims or witnesses had to be arranged by the circuit attorney, an arrangement the public defender found cumbersome and imposing.
“She (the circuit attorney) would arrange the date her people would be present,” Fox said, “They have said they would leave the room, but that’s not accurate. They would always be present for the interviews, and they would talk with the witnesses prior to our ever having a chance to talk with the witnesses.”
Dotson says the ruling is going to make it harder for people to take the witness stand.
“I think we’re going to see a reluctance of people to assist with prosecution, a reluctance of people to come forward and talk about crimes that they may have information on that we need, that the community needs.”
Dotson supports the circuit attorney’s plan to appeal the ruling, and the ongoing litigation of the issue in other pending cases.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce says she also plans to ask the Missouri Legislature to draft a bill that would protect victim’s and witnesses from the potential of witness intimidation.
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