March 1, 2007
Newark Has Difficulties Convicting in Eyewitness Cases
From NYTimes.com:There are at least 14 recent murders in Newark in which witnesses have clearly identified the killers but no charges have been filed, infuriating local police commanders and victims’ relatives.
In 8 of the 14 cases, according to court documents and police reports, there was more than one witness; in two of them, off-duty police officers were among those identifying the suspects. But in a DNA era, these are cases with little or no physical evidence, and they often involve witnesses whose credibility could be compromised by criminal history or drug problems, or both.
“No one wants to solve these cases and lock up the killers in these cases more than we do,” the county prosecutor, Paula T. Dow, said in a recent interview. “But we have to weigh the evidence and move forward only if we believe that the witnesses are credible and that they’ll be there to testify at trial.”
The tension between the police and prosecutors here over the evolving standards of evidence required to authorize arrest warrants is a stark example of the profound effect witness intimidation is having on the criminal justice system in New Jersey and across the country.
Surveys conducted by the National Youth Gang Center, which is financed by the federal Department of Justice, have found that 88 percent of urban prosecutors describe witness intimidation as a serious problem.
In both Baltimore and Boston, where “stop snitching” campaigns by rap artists and gang leaders have urged city residents not to cooperate with the authorities, prosecutors estimate that witnesses face some sort of intimidation in 80 percent of all homicide cases Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
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