Can A Witness Remain Anonymous in Court?

The safety and protection of a key witness in any court case is a top priority for any criminal court case. A common question asked of most experienced Clemson criminal defense attorneys is, “Is there a way for a witness to testify anonymously?”

In some cases, with extenuating circumstances, the identity of certain people involved can remain confidential. However, it would be unconstitutional for a witness to remain anonymous during a court trial.

If you are facing charges in the Clemson or Greenville areas, contact our office today.

Confidentiality With a Criminal Defense Attorney in Clemson, SC

A common misconception confuses the removal of the anonymity of a witness with violating attorney-client privilege. The attorney-client privilege protects the confidential correspondence and communication related to the legal services and advice that the attorney provides to the client.

This protection includes, but is not limited to:

  • Verbal discussions
  • Emails & text messages
  • Written correspondence
  • Other types of communication

The client has the right to invoke or waive this privilege – such as during discovery requests, depositions, and subpoena responses. However, the attorney-client privilege does not protect the anonymity of witnesses during a court trial primarily because of the provisions outlined within the U.S. Constitution.

How Witness Anonymity Conflicts with the U.S. Constitution 

There are two constitutional issues that could arise when it comes to the concept of keeping the identity of a witness anonymous – namely, the Due Process Clause, and the Confrontation Clause.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution highlights the value of the Due Process Clause. This clause guarantees that a criminal defendant must receive a trial that is both fair and unbiased regardless of the nature of his or her alleged crimes.

If a witness was allowed to stay anonymous while testifying or even wear a disguise in the courtroom, it could inadvertently send a message to the jury that the defendant is dangerous and likely guilty of the alleged crime.

A criminal defense attorney has the right to confront witnesses.

The Confrontation Clause is a provision outlined within and protected by the Sixth Amendment. The term “confrontation” has negative connotations and may seem like it allows defendants to aggressively confront or intimidate their accusers.

On the contrary, this clause gives the accused the right to control the witnesses against them – which simply means that he or she must know the identity of the accuser and have the opportunity to cross-examine them.

During Mattox v. United States, the Supreme Court highlighted three primary objectives that the Confrontation Clause was designed to serve:

  • Ensure that witnesses testify under oath & understand the seriousness of the trial process.
  • Allow the accused to subject any witness(es) against them via cross-examination.
  • Allow jurors to observe the behavior of the witness to assess his or her credibility.

Without this knowledge, it could be argued that the defendant’s Right to Confrontation was denied – which could have an adverse reaction on the outcome of the case.

The Victim Witness Assistance Program 

Just because there is no anonymity for witnesses in a courtroom trial does not mean that there are no protections or provisions in place for them. The commitment of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina manages the Victim Witness Assistance Program.

This program offers services to crime victims in federal cases, such as:

  • Timely notice of case-related events
  • Informing them of their applicable rights
  • Case proceeding information
  • Travel arrangement assistance
  • Referrals to social service and/or medical professionals
  • Logistical information (parking, childcare, transportation, etc.)

Additional resources for crime victims specifically are also made available by the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network (SCVAN).

Call a Clemson Criminal Defense Attorney

Facing criminal charges can be daunting and overwhelming for anyone – regardless of your background, age, or occupation. We recommended that you reach out to an experienced Clemson criminal defense attorney at Boatwright Legal.

We pride ourselves on offering unmatched care and attention to our clients and using years of courtroom experience to protect your rights. Call today to schedule your free consultation, so that we can examine the details of your case and get the process started right away.

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