A Defendant was accused of being a gang member and committing a murder for the benefit of the gang. The District Attorney wanted the testimony from one of the Defendant’s fellow gang members. This potential witness had seen the shooting and had crucial relevant testimony that was wanted by the District Attorney. The witness refused to testify when he was subpoenaed into court. He asserted his privilege against self incrimination, since he could have been accused of being a co-conspirator, and refused to testify. The District Attorney sought to force him to testify by seeking and obtaining a grant of immunity under Penal Code section 1324.
Penal Code section 1324 provides that the prosecutor can ask a judge to grant an order of immunity for a witness whose testimony is important to the prosecution as long as the grant of immunity doesn’t do more harm to the public than the good to society that is going to be obtained by having the testimony given by the witness. A grant of immunity under these circumstances means that the prosecution cannot use the testimony the witness gives against him in any future prosecution.
In this case the judge granted the immunity order and ordered the witness to testify. The witness looked at the judge and told him, “with all due respect, your honor I refuse to answer any questions”. The judge ordered the witness jailed until he changed his mind. The witness was led away in handcuffs and the trial proceeded with other witnesses.
How long can the witness be held in jail? The answer is, the witness can be held in jail until he changes his mind and agrees to answer questions OR until the trial is over. Once the trial is over the judge must release the reluctant witness. In this case the witness served two weeks in jail and never testified. No further punishment could be given to the witness and he never revealed what he knew.