Massachusetts SJC Rules that Prosecutors Can Play No Part in Compensating Witnesses

Any witness testimony that is secured either by payment from the State or because the district attorney gave the witness a favorable deal in their own criminal case, is always highly suspect. Is the witness telling the prosecution what they want to hear or what actually happened?

Today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that prosecutors can have no involvement in a process that gives financial reward to witnesses. The case stems from a New Bedford murder involving defendant Wayne Miranda. The City’s Chamber of Commerce offered any witness $3000 for information relevant to the investigation and an additional $2000 if their information led to a conviction. The prosecution, it should be noted, did not endorse or pay for this information. All monies strictly were paid by the City of New Bedford. Nevertheless, the prosecution wrote a letter on the witnesses behalf after the trial to confirm that the witnesses’ testimony led to a conviction so that they could receive the additional $2000.

The Massachusetts SJC has ruled that this practice needs to stop to prevent even a hint of impropriety.

We recognize that, to prove the crime charged, prosecutors often need to procure the cooperation and truthful information or testimony of reluctant witnesses. The interests of justice, however, are not well served when a witness’s reward is contingent on the conviction of a defendant rather than the provision of truthful information or testimony…

The murder judgment against Mr. Miranda was upheld on other grounds. The opinion regarding the letters for payment was not critical to the decision, but was ruled upon by the Court’s authority to ensure that all such activity cease.


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