Prosecutors have immense power. That fact is demonstrated every day in courthouses throughout America. One such instance came in Palm Beach County, where a witness and good Samaritan who thwarted an attempted purse-snatching, was before a criminal judge charged with contempt of court.
The good Samaritan, Corey Wyatt, chased down and caught a purse-snatcher in a Boyton Beach Publix shopping center. However, when the prosecution sought Wyatt’s cooperation in testifying against that criminal, he was less-than helpful. Wyatt, according to the Assistant State Attorney prosecuting the matter, at first reluctantly agreed to appear at trial. Nonetheless, despite being under a court-issued subpoena, Wyatt was a no-show for the criminal trial. The criminal defendant was convicted without Wyatt’s testimony, but the prosecutor, in a rather unusual step, charged Wyatt with contempt of court.
As Corey Wyatt discovered, hell hath no fury like a prosecutor scorned. Failure to abide by a duly issued court subpoena carries with it severe repercussions, including criminal prosecution for contempt and, possibly, jail time. In an even more unusual move, the Palm Beach Assistant State Attorney in Wyatt’s case, following his conviction, requested jail time. The Judge, luckily, had the sense to deny this rather extreme request.
The power of a prosecutor is immense. That is why most young prosecutors are trained to use their powers in the pursuit of justice carefully and with respect. When a witness or victim fails to abide by a subpoena, it often leaves these prosecutors, who are seeking some form of justice for victims and the community, frustrated. In addition, a witness’s failure to appear for at trial could lead to a dangerous criminal’s acquittal and may even have the secondary effect of diminishing the effect of a subpoena to persuade individuals to act accordingly. However, most individuals, like Wyatt, have their reasons for not appearing (it appears Wyatt had a job interview), and jailing these witnesses for failing to appear is unlikely to scare future witnesses into following subpoenas. The balance between punishment and compassion is often a difficult one for a good prosecutor to walk, but one that must be done nonetheless.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, we here at Benjamin & Melmer, LLC, suggest seeking the counsel of an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney. Witnesses have rights. We stand ready to take your call to set up a consultation.