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District attorney plans changes to witness payment policy

Steve Wolfson
Steve Wolfson
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Updated: 8/29 2:10 pm
LAS VEGAS -- Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said today he is announcing changes to ensure transparency when the office's Victim/Witness Assistance Fund is used.

Over the last decade, the district attorney’s office has prosecuted about 500,000 cases and tapped the fund only 56 times.

“Though the fund has been little used, it has been helpful in ensuring that victims and witnesses in violent criminal cases such as murders, sexual assaults and domestic violence have the ability to attend court proceedings so that criminals can be put behind bars,” Wolfson said.

In one instance, a witness’s house was shot at in a drive-by shooting after he testified against a gang member. The Victim/Witness Assistance Fund was used to relocate him. In another case, a sexual assault victim received assistance when a threatening note was left on her car parked in her apartment complex on the morning she testified. In yet another case, witnesses who were scheduled to testify before the grand jury received multiple, threatening telephone calls related to their testimony. The caller knew where they lived. The Victim/Witness Fund was used to relocate this family.

Of the 56 payments, 49 were for one-time rental or relocation assistance. The other seven instances were for bus passes and other uses. For example, the Victim/Witness Assistance Fund paid for bus passes so that the mother of sexual assault victims could take her children to see a counselor.

The office will be disclosing to all defendants, through their attorneys, instances in which the fund has been or will be used to provide assistance, whether cases proceed to trial or not. Additionally, disclosure will be made as far back as the district attorney has maintained records, which is 2005.

These funds are rarely paid directly to victims or witnesses. Instead, rental and relocation assistance is typically paid to the apartment leasing company.

“It’s important that we have transparency around these payments,” Wolfson said in making the announcement. “That way there can be no question about the effect of such payments on the judicial process. The notion that the fund is being used to buy testimony is offensive.”

-- Clark County News release

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