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You have the right to remain silent. Or do you? Witness Immunity in Criminal Cases


Frank Walker Law - Criminal Defense Attorney for Witnesses

Every American has the right under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution to avoid being compelled to provide testimony against their will that would incriminate them. However, in many criminal prosecutions, the only witnesses to the crime are people that may have been culpable of some wrongdoing associated with the crime as well. Many people believe that's just tough luck for the prosecution, and if you don't want to talk they can't make you, but that's not the whole story.

This is where Pennsylvania's immunity statute (42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5947) kicks in. When a witnesses refuses to testify based upon their right against self-incrimination, the District Attorney may apply for a grant of immunity to compel the witness to testify. Once immunity for the testimony has been granted, the witness must testify or they may face civil or criminal penalties for refusing. In cases of civil contempt the person may be held in the county jail until they comply and give testimony. In criminal contempt proceedings the person may be ordered to pay a fine of $1,000.00 and spend up to a year in jail!

The content of the testimony given under a grant of "use" immunity can not be used against the person testifying in a criminal prosecution for the criminal conduct testified to. However, that testimony may be used against the person in perjury proceedings if they lie. It may also be used in contempt proceedings for failure to comply with the immunity order. Also, the person testifying can still be prosecuted for the crime they are testifying about as long as the prosecution's evidence is wholly independent of the compelled testimony.

"Use" immunity differs from a broader type of immunity known as "transactional" immunity. Transactional immunity gives a witness full immunity from prosecution for crimes arising from any event about which the witness was compelled to testify. Even if the prosecution has independent evidence about that offense, they may not prosecute for that crime if the terms of the agreement are met. This grant of immunity is usually arrived at by an agreement between the attorney for the Commonwealth and the defendant.

If you have been subpoenaed to testify in a court case in which your testimony may reveal evidence that tends to incriminate you, it is important to seek a qualified attorney who is not involved in the case to advise you. Counsel for the person charged and the attorney for the Commonwealth have their own interests at heart and can not be counted on to advise you as to your rights. One wrong move and you may find yourself sitting at the defense table charged with a crime.

Attorney Frank Walker knows the ins and outs of the criminal justice system and has an excellent working relationship with the District Attorneys and Defense Bar of Allegheny County and the surrounding areas. He can advise you as to your 5th amendment rights and make sure that you are protected when giving your testimony in a criminal case. Call (412) 532-6805 to set up a consultation now!

Attorney Frank Walker of Frank Walker Law is a National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer and Personal Injury Attorney with offices in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and Morgantown West Virginia. Attorney Walker is also a member of the National College for DUI Defense and qualified as a Pennsylvania Death Penalty Defense Attorney.

If you or someone you love are facing criminal charges or seriously injured in an accident in WV or PA, contact Attorney Frank Walker immediately at 412-532-6805 24 hours a day, 7 days a weekfor aggressive and experienced Criminal Defense or Representation in a Civil Case.