The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to hear a case where a Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney prevented a confessed killer from testifying on behalf of another accused in the same crime. Dwayne Brown, who proclaims his innocence, is about to have his case heard by the state’s highest court.
After being apprehended for a murder, Jasaan Walker gave a full, videotaped, interview with police detectives. During the interview, Walker confessed to the shooting and named his two brothers as accomplices. In addition to charging Walker with the shooting, police also charged Dwayne Brown as the second shooter, even though Walker said Brown was not involved. Brown maintained his innocence and was set to call Walker as a witness at his trail.
However, as part of a deal with prosecutors to avoid not only the death penalty but also life in prison, Walker had a new story and implicated Brown as the other shooter and promised not to testify at Brown’s trial — for either side. When called as a witness for Brown’s defense, Walker asserted his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. The problem was, as an admitted killer who had already pled guilty, Walker did not have a valid Fifth Amendment claim. The trial judge sided with Walker (and the District Attorney) and prevented his testimony.
The question for our Supreme Court is whether prosecutors can threaten a witness with a harsher sentence to push for a conviction. Were that to happen in another context, it would be called witness intimidation. In this case, it was called a search for the truth. There can’t be one rule for defendants and another for prosecutors; we all play by the same rules. Whether silenced by thugs threatening violence or prosecutors threatening harsher sentences, witness intimidation is a scourge that affects the integrity of our criminal justice system and needs to be stopped.