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When Testifying is Dangerous: The Witness Protection Program


The U.S. Marshals have been charged with operating the federal Witness Protection Program in order to provide new identities to individuals who face the possibility of retribution when testifying against organized crime groups like the Mafia, for example, who terrorize communities and are involved in significantly violent crimes. The government understands that cooperation can be a genuine safety concern for witnesses and their families, and has been in the business of protecting them since 1971 as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.  Since then, nearly 20,000 people have been sheltered by the Marshalls, and the feds are proud to say that no one who’s followed the guidelines in the program has ever been harmed or killed.  Nevertheless, entry into the program is literally a huge upset to life. What do you need to know about it?

Facts About Witness Protection 

There are many little known facts about witness protection that should be considered before agreeing to placement in the program:

  • Eligibility depends on successful vetting and the sponsorship of the U.S. Attorney, the U.S. Marshals, and the Department of Enforcement Operations.
  • Witnesses must undergo mental and physical testing.
  • Skills testing will occur in order to place the witness in an appropriate job.
  • Witnesses, along with family members who join them, receive documentation such as new social security numbers, birth certificates, and drivers’ licenses, supporting new identities.
  • School records for minor children will be amended.
  • Although plastic surgery was offered prior to 1990, it is no longer part of the program.
  • Prior to becoming self-sufficient, witnesses are provided with financial assistance for about six months.
  • Furnished homes in neighborhoods with schools and churches will be provided.
  • After witnesses are asked where they would like to go, they are sent elsewhere so no one can anticipate the move, although an effort is made to place them in an area in which they would be comfortable.
  • Witnesses may write letters through a secure system (although letters must be destroyed after being read) and may make phone calls to loved ones left behind on a secure line.
  • Most witnesses remain in touch with the Marshals about once per year.
  • People can NEVER reveal their history, even if they get married later.
  • When they leave, witnesses are not allowed to tell people where they’re going. They essentially just disappear from their lives.
  • Nine out of ten witnesses in the program have a history of criminal activity themselves.

Lobo Law

 The dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Lobo Law are prepared to fight for the best possible outcomes for our clients.  To discuss your situation, schedule a confidential consultation in our Las Vegas office today.

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