My 15 y/o son witnessed a shooting & testified before a grand jury. They now have the suspect in custody and need my son to testify again (in the presence of the suspect). Does my child have to comply? What are the consequences for us if he doesn't? What will happen if he decides to change his story and deny witnessing anything?? What are our rights??
He can be compelled to testify. If he "decides to change his story and deny witnessing anything," then he will have committed perjury. Whether he will be prosecuted for that is impossible for me to guess. And if he is prosecuted, whether he will be prosecuted as an adult or as a juvenile is similarly impossible to guess.
But it's kind of your job to teach your son a bit about the obligations of citizenship and about the fact that someone may get away with a serious crime if your son seeks not to testify.
I think, all things considered, lying is a lot scarier than telling the truth here. It is your responsibility to advise your son to do the right thing.
Good luck to both of you.
I agree with the first answwer to a great degree. If your son saw a shooting, he should testify to what he saw. Yes, it is scary to do so, but it is also necessary if we are all to do away with those who break the law, such as what your son saw.
If nobody comes forward to testify, we might as well give up on ever having a lawful society. And, yes, it IS your responsibility to advise your son to do the right thing and tell what he saw so that that person is convicted and taken out of society for as long as possible. It is your responsibility not only for society, but for your son to learn what we all must do.
I can tell that I've testified against criminals and put up with the cross-examination - not because I liked it, but because it was the right thing to do.
You ask about "your rights"? Well, if you want to live in a lawless society, tell your son to lie and teach him never to stand up for what's right. But you'll also be teaching him how to act as an adult. If you want him to lie and go back on what he has previously sworn to tell the truth, then do it, but remember, there are consequences to every action you take.
Instead, I suggest you tell him to stand and say what he saw and make sure the shooter goes away for good. He will feel scared, sure, but he will also feel proud of himself for doing the right thing and that lasts a lifetime. I'm talking from personal experience here. I may be a criminal defense attorney, but I'm also a citizen and citizens must do the right thing or society as we want it falls apart.
Good luck to you both.
Yes, your son can be made to testify at trial - either by serving him with a subpoena, or if he fails to comply, with a material witness order that allows the police to arrest him and bring him before a judge to set bail to ensure his appearance in court. If he changes his story, the DA can charge him with perjury. If you are worried about his safety, I suggest you speak with the DA and they may relocate you during the trial and perhaps permanently.
I want very strongly to agree with the very sound and morally-impeccable advice given here by two truly excellent attorneys. But, my experience as a gang-prosecutor in a former chapter of my life made me a less than absolute on this issue.
I want to recommend that you schedule an opportunity to meet and speak at some length and in confidence with the prosecutor who will present the case in court. Ask the prosecutor to share with you the criminal history and profile of the defendant. Is this a gang or criminal enterprise case? Does the defendant have a lengthy "career criminal" type record? Or is the shooter a garden-variety criminal who presents no real threat once incarcerated?
You may need to press hard for disclosure by the prosecutor of this information but, under the circumstances, you have some leverage here and you are entitled to know to the best of anyone's ability who that defendant is and what potential for threat that defendant presents,if any. You should also ask the prosecutor how critical is your son's potential testimony to the prospects for conviction. Is your son one of multiple wits who can make the case, or is he "the case."
Finally, I would ask the prosector's office to link you and your son with the victim-witness services staff. New York is a very sophisticated law enforcement system and they have good victim and witness services and assistance available, but you have to know that and demand it. The prosecutor and witness assistance person should discuss with you whether it is possible for your son to testify by closed-circuit television, or some other less fraught manner; whether the court will bar the defense attorney from providing to his client or disclosing in court your son's personal info (last name, school, residence address, etc). There are some options here as to how your son testifies, and it is your job as the parent to press the system to work for you in addressing his needs in this matter.
I am optimistic that an adequate accommodation can be made in this matter so that your son can do the right and honorable thing and still feel safe and secure. But, if that does not turn out to be the case, I personally do not foresee any likelihood of charges of perjury against a juvenile who takes the witness stand but is too terrified to respond to questions. Most judges in criminal court have some experience with witnesses who are literally mute from fear, and the court knows that perjury and contempt of court are appropriate only for witnesses who are defiant, who overtly refuse to answer, and/or those who lie. It is not necessary that your son find himself in any of those situations and it is your responsibility to him not to let either of those situations be his best choice.
Call the prosecutor's office. Work with them.
Best wishes for a good result here.
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