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Note: The comments and questions on this page came from people who visited this website. Please feel free to send your comments and questions to Professor Brenner (brenner@udayton.edu). She will respond privately, and may ask permission to post your message on this page. No one's e-mail will be used without first obtaining their permission, and names and e-mail addresses are removed before a comment is posted. Starting in 2002, the responses posted to the site indicate which of us replied: The initials SWB mean Professor Brenner wrote the response; the initials LES mean Professor Shaw wrote the response. We are also putting the year down, to indicate when the response was posted. If no initials appear, Professor Brenner wrote the response.

Can a threat to one’s life be used to avoid testifying?

I have be called to testify before a Federal Grand Jury in a case concerning federal crime. Will I be able to refuse to testify for fear that the information I will give maybe released to the public and therefore put my life in grave danger. If they are able to release information about the President of the United States why should I believe the information from this Grand Jury will remain secret? I am very concerned since the information I give will clearly identify me as the witness.

Response: Grand jury information has always been open to release, but under certain carefully defined conditions. The condition that usually allows grand jury information to be made public is that a court can order it released for use in connection with a "judicial proceeding," which means a court proceeding (like a trial, for example). To have the information released, the party seeking release must show a specific, "particularized need" for certain parts of the information; the whole body of evidence obtained by a grand jury is not normally released.

So, there's some bad news and some good news: There is no guarantee that what you say will not eventually be released for use at trial; whether it will or not depends on how important it is to the prosecutor's case, etc. On the other hand, it is very unlikely that you will face the kind of wholesale, very public disclosures that occurred in the Start matter.

I suggest you get a lawyer and discuss all this with him/her to see what, if anything, can be done to put preserve your safety.

Good luck!

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