Officials across Massachusetts have banded together to push antigang legislation that would create a state witness protection program, strengthen gun and perjury laws, and establish a system to track shell casings found at crime scenes back to gun dealers, the Boston Globe reports. The bill would create a minimum five-year sentence for illegally carrying a loaded gun; make it illegal to distribute grand jury testimony without court authorization; allow judges to order defendants to stay away from witnesses as a condition of bail; and broaden the legal definition of witness intimidation.
The officials are concerned about surging gang violence in their communities and the increasing difficulty in persuading witnesses who have been intimidated by gang members to testify and cooperate with authorities. Prosecutors in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Chicago, and New York have witness protection programs similar to the better-known federal program. In Rhode Island, where a witness protection board had been in place for 15 years, the 2000 killing of a 15-year-old witness the night before she was to testify in a murder case led to further measures. A few months later, Rhode Island hired someone to handle the logistics of coordinating protection for state witnesses. Jay Youngs, an assistant attorney general in Rhode Island said the program generally costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually but has helped persuade witnesses to cooperate. “We have made cases where witnesses stuck with it because this existed,” Youngs said.