Penalties for intimidating witnesses need to be increased to protect those who speak out about crimes, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and local law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
The representatives hosted a news conference to push for federal legislation that would increase federal penalties for groups such as gangs who seek to intimidate witnesses.
The legislation Schumer is pushing would increase the potential maximum penalty for cases of attempted murder or physical violence against a witness to 30 years. Other types of witness intimidation could lead to 20 years in federal prison, under the proposal.
“Innocent bystanders who witness violent crimes should no longer live in fear when our law enforcement enlists their help to get criminals off the streets and behind bars,” Schumer said in a statement.
Among the local law enforcement officials at the news conference was Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney.
He noted later that his office has dealt with attempts to intimidate witnesses in two recent murder trials. In one of the cases, prosecution for the alleged attempt is ongoing.
Such a change in federal law could have impacted the recent cases, Carney said, possibly sending the cases to federal court. He noted that a federal prosecution carries different evidence standards.
Carney said he believed the federal proposal would be “a useful additional arrow in our quiver to protect witnesses.”