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Appeals court says circuit attorney must provide witness info to defense council

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – A new Missouri Court of Appeals ruling requires that St. Louis prosecutors share witnesses' addresses with the person who is charged with the crime. St. Louis City prosecutors had withheld those addresses for the past 10 years.

Still, prosecutors consider the ruling a victory. Though just being a witness to a crime can be enough to get you killed in St. Louis, the ruling does go a long way toward protecting witnesses and crime victims, prosecutors said.

They expected an even bigger change in the coming months.

The ruling affirms a 1979 Missouri Supreme Court decision, which explicitly requires prosecutors to disclose the names and last known addresses of witnesses to defense teams. So if you’re a witness in a murder or rape case, the suspect gets to know where you live.

“Put simply,” the court wrote, “the parties shall follow the Missouri Supreme Court rules.”

The ruling also grants prosecutors’ motions that phone numbers, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers, be off-limits.

“Before we were being ordered by the court to turn over witnesses’ Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers; all kinds of very personal private information. We no longer have to do that,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

She called the ruling a good “first step.” Joyce also vowed to continue withholding witnesses’ addresses when warranted by seeking protective orders from judges, until the “address” rule is eliminated for good.

Another matter involving more than 100 criminal cases in St. Louis is currently before the Missouri Court of Appeals.

“We have cases that involve actual witnesses who were threatened because their information got out,” Joyce said.

Just this summer, Latashia Mopkins of St. Louis was accused of having two teenage murder witnesses killed to help get the charges against her son dropped. Her son is a suspect in a 2013 murder.

Defense attorneys contend their clients have a right to access to witnesses beyond the watchful eyes of prosecutors. Joyce strongly disagreed.

“We’ve seen many instances where police reports containing addresses have ended up being circulated around the jail and being found in the hands of people that are trying to do harm to these witnesses and victims,” Joyce said. “Defense attorneys do not need the address in the vast majority of cases in order to be prepared for trial. We’ve seen that around the country and it’s time we start seeing that in St. Louis and the rest of Missouri.”

The Missouri Supreme Court rules committee is also looking at changing the rule and Missouri lawmakers will consider a new "witness privacy" law in the upcoming session, Joyce said.