Suspects have not been arrested in three seemingly slam-dunk murder cases in New Jersey because witnesses were scared silent, says the New York Times. The Essex County prosecutor has an unwritten rule discouraging pursuit of cases that rely on a single witness, and those in which witnesses are not extensively corroborated by forensic evidence. The three cases are among at least 14 recent murders in Newark in which witnesses have clearly identified killers but no charges have been filed, infuriating police commanders and victims' relatives.
In 8 of the 14 cases, there was more than one witness; in two of them, off-duty police officers were among those identifying the suspects. But the cases have little or no physical evidence, and they often involve witnesses whose credibility could be compromised by criminal history or drug problems, or both. Tension between police and prosecutors over the evolving standards of evidence required to authorize arrest warrants illustrates profound effect witness intimidation is having on the criminal justice system across the nation. Surveys by the federally funded National Youth Gang Center have found that 88 percent of urban prosecutors describe witness intimidation as a serious problem. In Baltimore and Boston, where “stop snitching” campaigns by rap artists and gang leaders have urged residents not to cooperate with the authorities, prosecutors estimate that witnesses face some sort of intimidation in 80 percent of homicide cases.