Witness protection upheld

Statements allowed to be shielded

May 10, 2008|By Melissa Harris

The state's second-highest court yesterday solidified judges' abilities to protect witnesses from intimidation and bar defense attorneys from sharing information about witnesses with their clients.

The case arose in 2005 after Jovon Brian Lancaster's girlfriend received a counterfeit $100 bill in a drug deal.

Lancaster and his brother, Pablo Guillermo Lancaster, retaliated by robbing the people who had used the counterfeit money, according to the court ruling.

At the request of Montgomery County prosecutors, the trial judge placed witnesses to the crime under a protective order, which barred Jovon Lancaster's lawyer from sharing their names, criminal records, statements and grand jury testimony before trial. Both were convicted.

The Court of Special Appeals concluded that the witnesses had "a reasonable fear" of retaliation, which was enough to justify the protective order.

The ruling affirmed the outcome of a 1991 case before the state's highest court but also gave judges new rights to shield witnesses' statements - not just their identities and addresses - from defendants.

The court ruled, however, that defendants must also have a right to seek changes in a protective order if their attorneys believe it interferes with their ability to mount a zealous defense.

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