Biden, Keeley, Henry Propose Bill to Strengthen Protections for Witnesses to Crime

WILMINGTON – Attorney General Beau Biden, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, Rep. Helene Keeley and a bipartisan group of legislators unveiled a bill Monday that will increase penalties for criminals who attempt to intimidate witnesses.

Finding witnesses who are willing to cooperate with law enforcement and testify against defendants is one of the biggest hurdles authorities face in prosecuting and convicting criminals in the City of Wilmington and throughout Delaware.   The bill, which will be filed Tuesday in the Delaware State Senate, strengthens the state’s laws against witness intimidation.

“Witnesses need to come forward to testify when they see a crime taking place in their neighborhood,” Biden said.  “We need witnesses to come forward in order for our prosecutors to convict criminals and take them off the streets.  Witnesses also need to feel the criminal justice system will protect them.  This legislation will strengthen the protections that witnesses receive and encourage more witnesses to cooperate.” 

Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, said is leading the charge for the measure because she said the problem of witness intimidation is a serious one.

“I think most of us have heard that witnesses who have key testimony have been scared out of stepping up because of threats to them or their families,” said Henry. “We need to make sure people feel they’ll be protected, if they do the right thing and I hope that, as word of these penalties, gets around it will make potential witnesses feel safer and make criminals reconsider trying intimidating witnesses.”

The legislation elevates witness intimidation crimes to a higher felony level, so criminals who try to scare witnesses out of testifying are more likely to face a sentence that involves prison time. 

Specifically, this bill seeks to deter criminals and their associates from harassing and intimidating victims and witnesses by increasing the punishment imposed upon those convicted of the existing crimes of “Act of Intimidation” and “Aggravated Act of Intimidation.”  The bill reclassifies Act of Intimidation as a Class D felony, which has a penalty of up to 8 years in prison, and Aggravated Act of Intimidation as a Class B felony, which has a penalty of a minimum of 2 years and up to 25 years in prison. 

“Witnesses coming forward to testify about a crime is stressful enough on its own,” said Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “Throw in intimidation and threats and it becomes a terrifying experience. We can’t begin to clean up our streets until we put these criminals behind bars, and we can’t put them behind bars if we don’t have witnesses testifying. We need to treat witness intimidation as the serious offense it is so we can get our judicial system working the way it’s intended.”

This proposal is the latest effort by Biden and legislators to ensure that police and prosecutors receive accurate and reliable information.  In 2012, Biden and the General Assembly passed legislation focusing on false statements given to police officers to hinder or delay investigations. Individuals who purposefully provide false information to police investigating a crime are now guilty of a Class G felony under the legislation and face the penalty of up to two years in jail.

In addition to Sen. Henry and Rep. Keeley, Sen. Bryan Townsend, is a co-prime sponsor of the legislation.  Co-sponsors include Sen. Robert Marshall, Sen. Brian Bushweller, Sen. Bruce Ennis, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, Sen. Karen Peterson, Rep. Dale Dukes, Rep. Debra Heffernan, Rep. Ed Osienski, Rep. Joe Miro, Rep. Larry Mitchell, Rep. Trey Paradee, Rep. Charles Potter, Rep. Michael Ramone, Rep. Melanie George Smith, Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman and Rep. Kimberly Williams.