When you’re a party to a criminal or civil trial, you are generally prohibited from directly communicating with any witness, informant, or victim. These rules are in place to protect those who are testifying from harassment or threats, as well as to encourage the free flow of information in court.
Witness tampering occurs when someone attempts to cause a person to testify falsely, withhold testimony or information, or be absent from any proceeding to which the witness has been summoned. You don’t have to be a party to the criminal or civil action to be charged with witnesses tampering. Here’s what you need to know about the law on witness tampering.
Elements of the Offense
State statutes and federal law breakdown witness tampering in slightly different ways. It can vary from altering a witness' testimony no matter the means, to only criminalizing outright intimidation, coercion, or use of force. What is the same in all cases is that the government must prove all elements of witness tampering beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. Common elements include:
An actual obstruction is not necessary as an element of proof. It is enough that the defendant performed the action to tamper with a witness.
Unlawful Conduct Toward a Witness
Witness tampering can take many forms, and will vary based on whether the proceeding is under state or federal law. It’s best not to think of prohibited actions as a narrow list, but any action that falls into the following categories:
Penalties for Witness Tampering
The degree of punishment for witness tampering is proportional to the seriousness of the criminal behavior. So a person convicted of having a witness killed can be sentenced to life imprisonment, and a person convicted of harassing a witness into testifying untruthfully won’t be punished by more than a year of imprisonment.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, witness tampering can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, including:
Defenses Against a Criminal Charge
When charged with a crime, you are innocent until guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. Below is a brief list of available defenses for fighting a witness tampering claim:
Accused of Witness Tampering? An Attorney Can Help
It’s incredibly stressful to be faced with criminal charges. Fortunately, there are defense strategies that may be available to you depending on the nature of your case and the individual facts. Protect your interests by speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney today.