Can the Commonwealth make me testify?

Q: As a Commonwealth witness, can I be incarcerated indefinitely because I refuse to testify in a criminal case in Pennsylvania? The Assistant District Attorney wants to revoke bail for the other witness and have him remain in jail because he refuses to testify in a criminal case.

A: The other witness has some issues and I hope that he or she has a lawyer. It sounds like he or she is on bond for a crime and it may be a bond conditions that he or she “cooperate” with the Commonwealth. If that is the case, he or she is in a tough situation if they now wish not to testify. As for you, you are not saying here that you are on bond or you are part of the case as a co-defendant, which makes a difference. First, you need to be served with a subpoena. You should review this with your attorney to see if you may incriminate yourself by testifying. If you will incriminate yourself by testifying, the attorney may advise you invoke your 5th Amendment rights and not to testify. If you will not incriminate yourself and have no 5th Amendment protection, and you are merely a factual witness, you have no right to not testify. However, if you wish, you can tell the Assistant District Attorney that you will not testify. The ADA can ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court for not testifying which can result in you being jailed and a contempt hearing being set. It doesn’t mean it will happen. If you want to play chicken with the ADA and the Court, you can refuse to testify until the judge tells you he will hold you in contempt and incarcerate you. At THAT point, you have a big decision to make. I don’t recommend playing chicken if you do not have a 5th Amendment right to protect. Again, I would consult with a lawyer to determine your rights.

If you feel like this issue relates to you, or a problem that you are experiencing, please contact me so that we can discuss your situation.