Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it a federal crime to intimidate or threaten witnesses in state court proceedings, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The legislation would give state witnesses the same legal protections that federal witnesses have.
“It is a violation of state law to intimidate a witness, but making it a federal offense imports a great deal more pressure, more power to the situation,” Specter said in a floor statement Tuesday. Here is Specter’s news release about the bill.
According to Specter, the State Witness Protection Act of 2010 is in response to a Philadelphia Inquirer series that found witness fear to be a factor in virtually every violent-crime prosecution in Philadelphia. The legislation would help protect the integrity of the judicial process, Specter said.
“Unless witnesses can be assured they will be protected, the problem of witness intimidation cannot be expected to go away,” he said.
The bill would allow the FBI and federal prosecutors to investigate and bring charges against people who intimidate witnesses in local court cases and would set tough new penalties for those crimes.
It would impose maximum penalties of up to 20 years for intimidating or harming a witness, up to 30 years for the attempted murder of a witness, and the possibility of the death penalty for the murder of a witness, according to the Inquirer.
According to The Inquirer, Specter’s effort was supported by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Barbara Clowden, whose 17-year-old son was killed two days before he was to testify as a witness in an arson trial in 2006. Clowden was profiled in the Inquirer series.
The Inquirer stories documented conviction rates that are among the lowest in the nation and described how thousands of cases collapse after terrified witnesses fail to appear in court.
The legislation is cosponsored by three other Senate Judiciary Committee members: Ted Kaufman, D-Del., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.