Witness protection program receives approval by state House

Photo: The House stood for a moment of silence Tuesday to honor Rep. Ashley Bland-Manlove’s cousin, Matthew Bland-Williams, who was killed in July.  Rep. Bland-Manlove (D-KCMO) urged members of the chamber to recognize the humanity of those most vulnerable to violent crime. Courtesy Missouri House Democratic Caucus twitter

Witness Protection Progress

By John Sharp

House Bill 66 to establish a long overdue pretrial witness protection program in Missouri passed the Missouri House of Representatives Tuesday, August 25, by an announced vote of 147-3, and now awaits approval by the Missouri Senate which is scheduled to convene Friday, August 28.

The bill will create a pretrial witness protection fund administered by the Missouri Department of Public Safety to provide financial aid to law enforcement agencies to protect witnesses, victims and their immediate families if their testimony in criminal trials that would put their lives in jeopardy.

Law enforcement agencies would apply for funding for specific cases and would be required to outline the projected costs and the methods they intend to use to protect the witnesses or victims.

The federal government and several other states have had such programs for years. If more witnesses and victims are willing to testify, the relatively small number of extremely violent repeat offenders that are responsible for a very high percentage of KCMO’s violent crimes can more likely be successfully prosecuted and incarcerated before they can harm more victims.

This will help reduce the skyrocketing number of homicides in Kansas City which stood at 127 for the year on August 24 – a 44% increase from the average number of homicides (88.25) by that date for the last four years. This year’s total includes 16 in the South Patrol Division.

Representatives of the city of KCMO and the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys both testified in favor of the legislation before the House Judiciary Committee which recommended the bill for passage 17-0. It also was recommended for passage without dissent by the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee and the House Fiscal Review Committee.

Both branches of the General Assembly must pass the same exact version of a bill before it can be sent to Governor Mike Parson for his signature. This bill contains an emergency clause that also was approved by the House, and if the Senate passes the bill and approves the emergency clause as expected, it will go into effect when it is signed into law by the governor.

jonathan patterson 08-25-2020
Missouri Rep. Jonathan Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit) debates HB66. Photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Representative Jonathan Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit) and co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Sharp (D-KCMO).

Patterson said he thinks it’s likely that the governor will announce a special session of the General Assembly in conjunction with the September 16 veto session to appropriate funds for the witness protection program.

A bill that should greatly reduce the incentive for guilty defendants in murder cases or other extremely serious felonies to try to have witnesses killed before their cases come to trial or to intimidate them into not testifying also passed the House August 25 by an announced vote of 133-11.

House Bill 2 will allow a judge to admit statements by witnesses into evidence if the judge finds in a hearing outside the presence of the jury in a jury trial that a defendant engaged in or consented to wrongdoing to prevent a witness from testifying and the witness fails to appear despite the due diligence of the prosecution or is unavailable because the defendant caused the death of the witness.

Rep. Barry Hovis-R, Whitewater, sponsored HB2. Photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications

This bill was recommended for passage without dissent by both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee.

The bipartisan bill which also contains an emergency clause was sponsored by Rep. Barry Hovis (R-Whitewater) and co-sponsored by Rep. Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) and Rep. Mark Sharp (D-KCMO).

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