How Witness Protection Works

Weighing the Risks

The process for enrolling a witness into the program b­egins when a state or federal law enforcement agency submits a request for protection. A Witness Security Program application is then submitted to the OEO; this application summaries the testimony to be provided, the threat to the witness and any risk the witness may pose to a new community if relocated.

The OEO then arranges for a preliminary interview with the Marshals Service so the witness ca­n find out what to expect from his or her new life in the program. The Marshals Service coordinates the interview directly with the prosecutor or requesting law enforcement agency, which must provide a copy of the application and threat assessment to the Marshals Service. Following the preliminary interview, the Marshals Service makes its recommendation as to whether the prospective witness should be placed in the Witness Security Program. Its recommendation goes to the OEO.

The final authority to enroll a witness into the program belongs to the U.S. Attorney General. The authority of the Attorney General was established as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 and extended by The Witness Security Reform Act of 1984. Considering recommendations of the Marshals Service and the prosecuting attorneys, the Attorney General (or a person delegated by the Attorney General) creates a written assessment of the risk the witness and his family members might pose to their new community, as many of these witnesses are often criminals themselves. The Attorney General evaluates the following factors regarding each adult considered for protection:

  • Criminal records
  • Alternatives to witness protection
  • Testimony from other potential witnesses

­If the value of the witness's testimony outweighs the danger to the new community, the Attorney General can place the witness in the Witness Security Program. The OEO then advises the requesting agency's headquarters of the Attorney General's decision, and the witness and family members must sign a Memorandum of Understanding, verifying they understand the rules of the program.

Entry into the program is only the first step to anonymity. In the next section, you will learn how the Marshals Service creates new identities and finds a new city for protected witnesses. ­