TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner welcomed the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s approval of her bill, 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.
“Trenton has already faced at least two cases this year where witness intimidation and tampering has escalated to murder,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “The message gangs are sending is that if you go to the police, you or someone you love will die. There is a blanket of fear covering our communities, making it near impossible to go after criminal gangs.”
Senator Turner continued, “These two senseless murders show the complete lack of humanity exhibited by street gangs as they do everything possible to avoid jail while victimizing our communities. We need to come down hard on these thugs and protect law-abiding citizens.”
In April, Trenton resident Shawn Travis was gunned down in the doorway of his apartment building. 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.
“The more we allow criminal gangs to terrorize our neighborhoods with threats of retaliation for cooperating with the police, the harder it will be for prosecutors to find witnesses willing to take a stand against this senseless violence,” added Senator Turner. “Witness safety needs to be a top priority in our war on gangs, or we’re going to continue to lose ground.”
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.
“I want to thank Speaker Roberts and Chairwoman Pou for posting this bill today for a vote and hope that we can continue to work together to move the bill quickly through the full Assembly and on to the Governor’s desk. We cannot afford to delay in enacting this legislation any longer,” explained Senator Turner.
The bill was approved by a vote of 12-0 and now goes to the full Assembly for final consideration.