ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - There was a heated courtroom showdown over the privacy of crime victims and witnesses in St. Louis, Friday afternoon. A judge recently ordered city prosecutors to share the addresses of crime victims and witnesses -with public defenders. Instead of complying, prosecutors filed a motion for the judge to reconsider.
“I imagine women I’ve met who are rape victims coming home from the store or something and getting dragged into an alley and raped, if that woman knows that that rapist is now going to have her address, that’s terrifying. It’s not necessary,” St. Louis’s top prosecutor, Jennifer Joyce, told Fox 2 before the hearing.
Assistant Circuit Attorney, Beth Orwick, and Public Defender Mary Fox, argued before Judge Michael Mullen during the hearing. Mullen said he was bound by the Missouri Supreme Court rule requiring that the defense have access to the last known addresses of crime victims and witnesses, which prosecutors have been redacting from documents, including police reports, shared with defendants.
“My opinion doesn’t matter,” Mullen told the attorneys. “It’s my job to enforce the rule.”
His order says only last known addresses (not other private information like social security numbers) were to be shared. It also says those addresses are to be shared only with defense attorneys but not defendants, themselves (nor their advocates, friends, and family members).
Joyce took aim at the rule and not the judge. She said it had become outdated since it took effect in 1979. She also said it was unconstitutional in violation of the Missouri Victims’ Rights Amendment passed 13 years later.
The Missouri Attorney General was among prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates to write briefs in support of Joyce’s stand. About dozen crime victims and witnesses were in court in support of the motion.
Another local prosecutor told Fox 2 he had no problem with the rule. Defense attorneys presumably want the information to know where to serve witnesses with court documents like deposition notices and so investigators for the defense can interview witnesses away from the watchful eyes of prosecutors.
The rule had led to witnesses being threatened, injured, even killed in St. Louis, Joyce said.
“One witness in particular...their family’s house was shot up multiple times,” said Serena Wilson-Griffin, the cousin of a recent St. Louis murder victim.
A recent carjacking victim asked Fox 2 to hide her identity.
“I don`t ever want him to know where I live. I don`t want him to be able to call me, contact me…knowing that at any time he could just show up … doesn`t make me feel very safe at all,” she said.
“We’re still going to have witness intimidation but why on earth would we pour gasoline on that fire by making all of this information so readily available to the defendant,” Joyce said.
Mullen did not rule on the motion. 14 more cases dealing with the same issue are now before the Missouri Court of Appeals.