Am I Allowed to Contact My Accuser or Witnesses After I’ve Been Accused of a Crime?

You have rights, and so does your accuser

When it comes to criminal court proceedings, in addition to other constitutionally afforded rights, it is a defendant’s right to have a fair, speedy trial, as well as legal representation that is either secured by the defendant themselves, or one that is appointed to them should they not be able to afford one. 

Ensuring these rights is intended to protect a defendant’s constitutional rights. Promoting this sense of fairness in the criminal justice system is not limited to the defense of a criminal proceeding, of course. 

The scales of justice are, in theory, intended to be balanced. The justice system’s sense of fairness is also extended to both alleged victims and witnesses. 

In general, the court’s goal is to gather as much factual information as possible in order to render the fairest verdict in any proceeding, and the continued cooperation and accurate testimony of eyewitnesses and potential victims is central to the American Justice System’s commitment to accurately determining a defendant’s innocence or guilt. 

What is considered appropriate regarding accuser interactions?

Some questions we are often asked by our clients are, “Can I contact my accuser?” or, similarly, “Can I contact the witnesses in my case?” Our answer is always the same:

Under no circumstances is it appropriate for a criminal defendant to make direct or indirect contact with an accuser or with persons claiming to be a witness to the crime they’ve been accused of. 

The reason? Well, there are many, but most importantly this strict separation of parties helps maintain the integrity of the proceedings, as well as helps to maintain a more positive perception of the accused. Contact by a defendant to an accuser or to a witness can create the perception of witness tampering, intimation, harassment, or any number of accusations that the prosecution can use against a defendant in court, further jeopardizing their chances in achieving a positive outcome. 

New Jersey takes accuser and witness rights very seriously

The State of New Jersey, in an effort to clarify a victim’s or witness’s rights during a criminal case, created a Bill of Rights as an amendment to the New Jersey State Constitution. 

Fairness, compassion, and respect is the goal, as are the following considerations:

  • Victims and witnesses shall be treated with dignity and compassion by the New Jersey justice system
  • Victims and witnesses shall be informed about the criminal justice process
  • Victims and witnesses shall be free from intimidation (this is specified to protect victims and witnesses
  • Victims and witnesses shall have minimal inconveniences associated with their participation in the criminal justice system
  • Victims and witnesses may make at least one telephone call of reasonable length and location
  • Victims and witnesses shall have access to medical assistance related to the incident
  • Victims and witnesses shall be notified in a timely fashion (unless circumstances require otherwise) if their presence in court is needed or if the proceeding in question has been canceled or adjourned
  • Victims and witnesses shall be informed about relevant available financial assistance or social services
  • Victims and witnesses shall be compensated for loss whenever possible
  • Victims and witnesses shall have access to a secure (but not always separate) waiting area during the court proceedings
  • Victims and witnesses shall be kept in advisement of cases progress
  • Victims and witnesses shall have their property used as evidence in a criminal proceeding promptly returned when it is no longer needed
  • Victims and witnesses shall have the opportunity to submit a written or in person impact statement
  • Victims and witnesses shall have the opportunity to consult with the prosecuting authorities prior to the conclusion of any plea negotiations 
  • Victims and witnesses shall have the opportunity to be present at any judicial proceeding involving a crime or any juvenile proceeding involving a criminal offense
  • Victims and witnesses shall be notified of a defendant’s release or escape from prison
  • Victims and witnesses may appear in any court before which a proceeding implicating the rights of the victim is being held

Outreach to accusers and witnesses is strongly discouraged, as is speaking about them in the media

It’s important to remember the way we conduct ourselves during any part of the legal process — investigation, trial, etc. — will be highly scrutinized by prosecutors and the public. 

This level of scrutiny isn’t limited to direct accuser and/or witness outreach, but can also be extended to any efforts you as the accused may make to tarnish their reputations in the public sphere. 

This is yet another reason why we always advise our clients to never speak to the media and never to post on social media without the express permission of their legal counsel. And this is permission you’re likely never going to get. It’s simply not worth it. 

Have you been accused of a crime? Are you facing a difficult legal battle? Then you need the Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot! For fifty years, our practice has been providing the citizens of New Jersey with the passionate, effective legal defense services that they deserve! When facing a challenge to your freedoms, you need DeGroot!

Contact us TODAY for your confidential consultation. Don’t delay.