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Witness intimidation involves witnesses crucial
to court proceedings being threatened in
order to pressure or extort them not to testify.
The term “witness” is used to refer both to victims
and to bystanders who could provide information
to police. The term “victim” is used to denote the victim of the initial crime. The
refusal of key witnesses to testify commonly renders a case with inadequate physical
evidence void in a court of law. This is a significant problem that has many lawmakers
considering tough penalties for intimidating a witness as in example the state of Kansas,
where it is a criminal misdemeanor, or, if found to be aggravated a felony.
How common is witness intimidation? It is difficult to know because the crime is greatly
under reported and also when intimidation is successful neither the intimidation nor the
original crime are reported. Many witnesses drop out of the investigation process long
before an indictment or court appearance. Witness intimidation plays a role in many
types of crime. Witness intimidation, however, is not the same as repeat victimization.
Although in both cases the same offenders may be responsible for multiple events, their
motives are different. In witness intimidation, the intent is to discourage the victim from
reporting a crime to police or from cooperating with prosecutors, whereas in repeat victimization,
the motive is often acquisitive.
Medical Whistleblowers who witness criminal activity or have been victimized by a crime
are sometimes reluctant to come forward and report incidents to police or to assist in the
prosecution of offenders. In the medical community there are generalized community
norms that discourage doctors, nurses and other medical professionals from cooperating
with a criminal investigation.