Leveling the playing field: Immunized witnesses for the defense

In the vast majority of criminal cases, the defense faces a serious institutional disadvantage. The government has virtually unlimited resources, immense experience in playing to an attentive (and often subservient) media, the ability to intimidate witnesses into testifying, and a habit of plea-bargaining its way to victory. It also can grant immunity to witnesses, a gift that assures the prosecution of evidence when it needs it. The defendant, in contrast, ordinarily has no such weapon by which to enforce his subpoena to a witness who “takes the Fifth.” A recent federal court case in Philadelphia, about which I write in my Forbes.com blog Injustice Department, holds the potential for a partial un-stacking of the deck.

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