Attorney General Lockyer, Prosecutors Urge Continued Funding of Witness Protection Program
$3 Million Program Critical for Successful Homicide, Gang Prosecutions
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged the Governor and California Legislature to continue funding the California Witness Protection Program, which local prosecutors depend on to ensure witnesses can safely testify at criminal trials.
"Often, the only thing preventing a killer from getting away with murder is the testimony of a key witness," Lockyer said. "This program protects witnesses from criminal defendants who try to scare and threaten them into silence."
Administered by the Department of Justice, the California Witness Protection Program provides funding to district attorneys to ensure the safety of witnesses whose testimony is crucial to obtain criminal convictions. Since the program began in January 1998, the program has assisted in the successful prosecution of more than 2,850 serious and violent offenders in 42 of the state's 58 counties. More than 3,800 witnesses and family members have been relocated or otherwise protected.
During the past fiscal year (July 1, 2001-June 30, 2002), the program approved and funded 376 new cases, and reimbursed $2.8 million in funds for witness protection. The cases provided protection for 456 witnesses, and 693 family members, who testified against 637 defendants. Of those cases, 280 (74.5 percent) were gang-related. Sixteen cases involved narcotics trafficking, six cases involved domestic violence, two were classified as organized crime and 72 were classified as "high-risk," meaning they involved serious and violent offenses that did not fit into the above categories.
Charges of homicide and attempted homicide made up 60 percent of the cases, and assault accounted for 13 percent. The remaining 27 percent involved rape or sex-related crimes, kidnaping, robbery (including home-invasion robberies), making threats, narcotic charges, fraud and criminal conspiracy.
The demand for funding from district attorneys offices in 2001-2002 increased 7.4 percent over the previous fiscal year's request for funding for 350 new cases.
"This program not only protects witnesses who help put criminals behind bars, it also protects the general public by taking violent criminals off the street," Lockyer said. "Even in these lean budgetary times, we need to do everything possible to support effective programs such as this that protect public safety."