A Defendant's Right to Know the Identity of Witnesses Who May Testify Against Him

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Whether you are accused of a crime in Maryland, Virginia, or the Didtrict of Columbia, the same rules apply, in most instances the State must inform you, and your attorney, of the identity of witnessess who will be testifying against you. A recent article in the Daily Record on August 27, 2009, wrote about this Maryland case, State v. Lancaster http and looked at this issue.

In Lancaster, the Defendant was allegedly in a group of armed men who robbed an Olney home after one of its residents used a counterfeit $100 bill to buy drugs from Lancaster's girlfriend. Before trial the Judge granted the State's request to bar Lancaster's lawyer from sharing the names of the State's witnesses with him. The Court reasoned that the substantial risk of harm to the witnesses outweighed Lancaster's right to know their names before trial.

While looking more closely at the rights of a Defendant, Maryland's highest court reached a different outcome. The Court found that prosecutors failed to present evidence of "specific threats" from Lancaster against the witnesses. Further, since he was in jail pending trial, the State needed to show how Lancaster had the means to carry out the threat. More importantly, the Court indicated that Lancaster's right of cross-examination was critical, since the witnesses knew each other, and cross could reveal a motive to testify falsely. Motives cannot be explored without thorough cross-examination. As the State acknowledged in this case, seeking protective orders that shield the names of the witnesses from defendant's should be an extraordinary measure.

If you or a family member has been charged with a crime, please do not hesitate to contact the Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Portner & Shure.

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