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Can a reluctant witness be forced to testify in California?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense

It’s a prosecutor’s job to decide whether or not to bring charges, but prosecutors need evidence to turn charges into convictions.

So, what happens if a witness refuses to testify against you? Would that get you out of trouble? Probably not, and here’s why.

A witness who refuses to testify can be held in contempt of court

The courts don’t make it easy for witnesses to just decline to testify. Generally speaking, witnesses will be issued a subpoena to appear and – should they refuse to attend to refuse to testify – they can be charged with contempt of court. That gives the court the power to fine and imprison the witness, which can be a powerful motivator to get them to comply.

A defendant who suggests that a witness not testify can face new charges

You can also bet that if a witness in your case suddenly refuses to testify, the court will want to know why. They’re likely to suspect that the defendant has something to do with it.

If you threatened them, cajoled them into silence or just pleaded with them for mercy and that influenced their decision to not cooperate, the court can charge you with witness intimidation. That’s a common sort of behavior, particularly with domestic violence charges. What that means is that even if you’re not convicted of the original charges, you could still go to jail and face fines for the secondary crime of obstructing justice.

Ultimately, any “do-it-yourself” approach to your charges can end up leaving you in a worse position than you started. It’s far better to get experienced legal guidance and work on your defense without wading into deeper legal waters.