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Supporters of a state-funded witness protection program in Massachusetts have promised to keep fighting for its approval, despite the fact that state legislators rejected an amendment to the budget that would have provided for such a program. “The issue is still alive,” said Mark Fine, chief of staff for state Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, who drafted the amendment. “Even though it was rejected as part of the budget it can still be introduced at a later date.” The program, as drafted by Creem, would ensure that a witness who is endangered due to his or her involvement with a criminal investigation or proceeding is guaranteed protection from physical harm or intimidation. Under the bill, protection services for witnesses could include armed protection or escort, physical relocation and coverage for basic living expenses. Unlike the federal witness protection program, however, the bill would not include identity changes for key witnesses. Daniel M. Rabinovitz, an associate for the Boston firm of Dwyer & Collora who spent the first seven years of his legal career as a prosecutor for the Cook County State Attorney’s Office in Illinois, supports the creation of a witness protection program for Massachusetts. ‘SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH’ “For both the prosecution and the defense, the trial process is a search for the truth,” said Rabinovitz. “A witness protection program is an essential part of this search for the truth.” Advocates for a state-sponsored program point to the fact that the limits currently imposed on Massachusetts’ district attorneys who wish to protect witnesses are detrimental to the proper prosecution of a case. “We spend tens of millions of dollars on prosecutors, public defenders and security for judges, but none on the witnesses,” said Sean Kealy, legal counsel to Creem. “That just doesn’t make sense because witnesses are the ones that everybody is out to get.” Kealy says that district attorneys who want to protect witnesses have been raiding the budgets for their offices or, in some cases, using their own credit cards to provide motel rooms and other forms of protection to witnesses. MAKING CHOICES As a result of these limitations, the district attorneys are being forced to choose which witnesses to protect when, in fact, many they decide not to protect may need it. “By giving a formal structure to witness protection, not only would there be more cohesiveness to the system, but the district attorneys would be more likely to protect people,” said Kealy. “A lot more close calls would get funded.” Currently, only 14 states have their own witness protection programs. Connecticut’s statute, which provides that district attorneys decide whom should be protected, is generally accepted to be the model program. Rabinovitz, who says many of his witnesses had been threatened and needed protection, sees a witness protection program as the only means to defeat witness tampering. “In this day and age the number of witnesses being threatened is clearly increasing,” he said. “You have to ask yourself why you would risk your life and well-being to testify at a trial. The answer is you wouldn’t.”

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