Improving the Justice System Response to Witness Intimidation

Witness intimidation is "behavior which strikes at the heart of the justice system itself." United States v. Mastrangelo, 693 F.2d 269, 273 (2d Cir. 1982). When intimidation is permitted to occur, and when it is not effectively addressed by the justice system, victims and witnesses suffer additional harm, defendants escape accountability for their actions, and the general public becomes cynical and loses confidence in law enforcement. Effectively addressing the problem of witness intimidation requires the participation of law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, advocates, health care, social services, corrections professionals, and probation or parole officers-all of whom may come into contact with victims or witnesses who are vulnerable to intimidation or with defendants who intimidate.

Initiative on Witness Intimidation (IWI)

Commenced in September of 2010, the Initiative on Witness Intimidation (IWI) is a field-initiated project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance. IWI's mission is to improve the quality of justice and safety of victims and witnesses susceptible to witness intimidation by developing, evaluating, and refining justice system practices that raise community awareness and increase victim safety and offender accountability. Three pilot sites were selected for the project: Duluth, Minnesota; Knoxville, Tennessee; and San Diego, California. AEquitas staff, in partnership with the Battered Women's Justice Project and local practitioners in Duluth, Knoxville, and San Diego used the Praxis Safety and Accountability Audit Tool Kit to observe court proceedings, courthouse activity, and offender groups; interviewed victims and justice system practitioners; and reviewed prosecution files and sentencing reports. They reported their findings, identified gaps in witness safety and offender accountability, and made recommendations to address those gaps. Links to the findings and recommendations from each site, and additional resources produced as a result of the project, are below.

Throughout the IWI project AEquitas worked closely with the Justice Management Institute (JMI) to evaluate and refine the justice system response to witness intimidation. Using the experiences from each IWI pilot site and research-based theory, JMI developed a tool to measure jurisdictions' responses to witness intimidation which is included in the resource, Improving Witness Safety and Preventing Witness Intimidation in the Justice System: Benchmarks for Progress. While experienced justice system professionals are knowledgeable about intimidation, far too many incidents are still overlooked, misjudged, or otherwise left unaddressed. This resource includes tools for practitioners to use collaboratively within their communities and is intended to provide justice system professionals with concrete guidance to implement best practices.

IWI has also augmented AEquitas' foundational work in the areas of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and human trafficking by allowing staff to provide technical assistance and training to prosecutors and allied professionals that will assist them in reducing the incidence of intimidation, investigating acts of intimidation when they do occur, and effectively prosecuting both intimidation crimes and the original crime when witnesses are reluctant to testify or unavailable for trial due to intimidation. In addition to providing technical assistance and training, AEquitas will continue to develop, catalog, and maintain resources for justice system professionals that will better enable them to investigate and prosecute intimidation crimes and criminal cases affected by intimidation.


Webinar Recordings

AEquitas would like to acknowledge the following organizations for their significant contributions to the IWI project: Battered Women's Justice Project; Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (The Duluth Model); Justice Management Institute; Praxis, International; Knoxville Family Justice Center; and the San Diego Family Justice Center; and gang investigators from Duluth, Knoxville, and San Diego.

Special Initiatives