Trou­bled wit­nesses

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS - Ro­mario Scott Gleaner Writer ro­mario.scott@glean­erjm.com

APROFESSOR in the Depart­ment of Be­havioural and So­cial Sci­ence at the North­ern Caribbean Univer­sity has pro­nounced that wit­nesses in crim­i­nal cases are likely to flip-flop in their tes­ti­monies and state­ments when there is lack of con­fi­dence in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or when they feel threat­ened.

Pro­fes­sor Dadria Lewis on Mon­day told The Gleaner that some wit­nesses are afraid to tes­tify in court be­cause of fear for their lives or those of their fam­ily mem­bers.

“If some­body is not feel­ing safe, you will hear of the cases where wit­nesses don’t turn up or you can­not find them, or they change their minds to say they weren’t there or they did not see. It is some­times the case where peo­ple have got to them or they have been threat­ened,” Lewis said.

The pro­fes­sor is also of the view that wit­nesses some­times pre­de­ter­mine in their minds whether there is enough ev­i­dence to se­cure a con­vic­tion, and their co­op­er­a­tion then be­comes a func­tion of the ini­tial strength of the ev­i­dence.

“Even though the act may have in fact hap­pened, some­times it’s hard, es­pe­cially for chil­dren. There may not have been enough ev­i­dence to con­vict, [they think] the per­son will then walk free ... some­times they won­der if it is worth it,” she said.

“In their mind, they will be ask­ing, ‘if this per­son goes free, what hap­pens to me?’” she fur­ther rea­soned.

As a re­sult, she men­tioned that the ap­proach of the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tors plays a sig­nif­i­cant part in how the wit­nesses co­op­er­ate with the sys­tem in the long run, if at all.

Lewis also be­lieves that the fa­cil­i­ties at some of the coun­try’s po­lice sta­tions are not con­ducive to wit­nesses mak­ing full dis­clo­sure.

“Wit­nesses need pri­vacy, and many of our po­lice sta­tions do not have that. They need to feel that the in­for­ma­tion that they give will be kept con­fi­den­tial, but, when you look at the set up at some of our po­lice sta­tions, it does not al­low for that,” she ar­gued.

SET­TING FAC­TOR

Con­tin­ued the pro­fes­sor: “Some­times, the po­lice ques­tion some­body, and it’s in an open of­fice set­ting or shared cu­bi­cles, and cer­tainly, that sit­u­a­tion does not con­trib­ute to some­one feel­ing safe and the in­for­ma­tion they give will be kept con­fi­den­tial. Some­body could be at a next door, room or within the same space and over­hear ... and what ends up hap­pen­ing is that they carry the news out­side or back to an ac­cused.”

The pro­fes­sor said he sup­ported the idea of record­ing wit­nesses, but warned that hav­ing made the ini­tial state­ment on tape, wit­nesses would be again con­tem­plat­ing their safety as there would be no way to change the state­ment or lie in the event they have been threat­ened.

She called for the im­prove­ment of the wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme and an in­crease in guar­an­tee of pro­tec­tion of those wit­nesses who are brave enough to come for­ward.

In the mean­time, Ho­race Levy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ja­maicans for Jus­tice, said he wanted the po­lice to im­prove their in­ves­tiga­tive ca­pac­ity for gath­er­ing foren­sic and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence in­stead of re­ly­ing on eye­wit­nesses, given the fact that they can be cor­rupted.

“There are so many ways wit­nesses can be turned away from per­sist­ing their tes­ti­mony. Given the level of in­tim­i­dat­ing in­flu­ence that ex­ists in the coun­try, that’s where [col­lect­ing foren­sics and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence] the fo­cus should be at,” he said.

Ho­race Levy

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