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.