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Court To Review Testimony Ruling

July 11, 1998

DENVER (AP) _ A federal appeals court on Friday said it will review a controversial ruling issued by a three-judge panel last week that bars federal prosecutors from offering leniency to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.

Without waiting for a request from federal prosecutors, who feared the ruling would make their jobs extremely difficult, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the case that produced the ruling will be reconsidered by the full 12-judge court.

The court vacated the panel’s decision, which had made prosecutors nationwide nervous and sent lawyers in the six-state region governed by the appellate court scrambling to delay criminal trials affected by the ban.

Plea-bargained testimony, in which witnesses agree to testify for the government in return for leniency in their own criminal troubles, is a longstanding and common practice.

But the panel said such deals fall under a federal law against offering a witness ``anything of value″ in return for testimony. Under the decision, federal prosecutors making such offers could have been sent to prison.

Attorneys had said the decision would make it more difficult for the government to investigate and prosecute crimes, particularly those committed by more than one person.

Decisions of the 10th Circuit Court govern cases in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. But Justice Department officials expressed concern the ruling could undermine prosecutions nationwide.

The Justice Department said Thursday it would appeal the panel’s decision, but the court itself decided to do so before receiving the request.

The plea-bargained testimony ban could have affected the appeal of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, because key government witness Michael Fortier testified after making a deal with prosecutors.

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