How Witness Protection Works

Who's Eligible?

U.S. Marshals Service seal
U.S. Marshals Service seal

­Witness protection is provided only for witnesses whose testimony is determined to be essential to the successful prosecution of a criminal case and in which the witness's life or the life of his family is at risk. The witness's testimony also must be considered credible an­d certain in coming, meaning that the witness isn't going to back out of giving that testimony in c­ourt.

Three organizations manage the Witness Security Program:

  • United States Marshals Service provides security, health, safety of non-incarcerated program participants
  • U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO) - authorizes the admission into the program of witnesses whose lives are in danger as a result of their testimony against drug traffickers, terrorists, organized crime members or other major criminals
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) - maintains custody of incarcerated witnesses

­The U.S. Attorney General's office, which has final word on all witness protection cases, has defined specific cases in which witnesses may be gr­anted entry into the Witness Security program, including:

  • Any offense defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1961(1), which covers organized crime and racketeering
  • Any drug trafficking offense described in Title 21, United States Code
  • Any other serious, Federal felony for which a witness may provide testimony that may subject the witness to retaliation by violence or threats of violence
  • Any State offense that is similar in nature to those set forth above
  • Certain civil and administrative proceedings in which testimony given by a witness may place the safety of that witness in jeopardy

­In the next section, we'll look at the steps involved in placing a witness into the Witness Security Program.