TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner welcomed final legislative approval of her measure, S-367/503, which would increase the penalties associated with witness intimidation and tampering in order to help law enforcement encourage more witnesses to come forward and testify during criminal court trials.
“This is a growing problem across the State, but in Trenton, the effects of gang intimidation and witness tampering have been particularly painful,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Already we have faced two barbaric murders this year as gangs become bolder and bolder in how they take revenge on those who testify in court. People shouldn’t live in fear of being targeted because they’ve decided to step forward and help the police.”
Senator Turner continued, “It’s become painfully clear – street gangs will stop at nothing to ensure their criminal lifestyle without fear of going to prison. We need to put a stop to these thugs and protect law-abiding citizens.”
In April, Trenton resident Shawn Travis was gunned down in the doorway of his apartment building. According to media reports, he was cooperating with local authorities after witnessing a gang shooting last year. About a month later, in an unconnected case, ten-year-old Trenton student Qua-Daishai Hopkins died when the house she lived in with her parents was set on fire. It is believed that the fire was set in retaliation for her parents testimony against a local leader of the Bloods gang that led to a life sentence in federal prison for drug-distribution charges.
“Material witnesses are the most powerful weapon in the war on criminal street gangs. If we can’t guarantee the safety of those individuals who have witnessed a crime, it’s going to become more and more difficult to get these people to come forward,” added Senator Turner. “Now, more than ever, protecting witnesses and their families from threats of retaliation needs to be a top priority.”
The bill, S-367/503 would upgrade the penalties for witness tampering, retaliation, hindering, and bribery. The bill would apply to official proceedings that are pending, about to be instituted, and have already been instituted.
Under the bill, a person would commit an offense if he knowingly engages in conduct which a reasonable person would believe would cause a witness or informant to: 1) testify or inform falsely; 2) withhold any testimony or evidence; 3) elude legal process summoning him to testify or supply evidence; 4) absent himself from any proceeding or investigation to which he was legally summoned; or 5) otherwise obstruct, delay, prevent or impede an official proceeding or investigation.
The bill was approved by a vote of 80-0 and now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.