You can still be charged with this crime even if the attempt doesn’t actually change the testimony of the witness. You might be the defendant in different criminal proceedings when you try to tamper with a witness on that case. Or you might be another person who attempts to tamper with testimony on either the side of the defendant or the prosecution. Interfering with the justice process is still illegal even when it works in the favor of the prosecutors.
The US Code gives federal protection to informants, victims, and witnesses. No matter whether you’re testifying in a federal or state court, these protections apply to you. You have the right to testify and cooperate with authorities without being intimidated or threatened.
The witness tampering code talks about nearly every kind of tampering possible, from intimidating the witness to keeping them from reporting a crime. The one exception is when someone bribes a witness. Bribing a witness is considered a different crime with different ramifications.
You can be charged with witness tampering for non-trial situations, too. For example, if you interfere with a witness who is going to speak before Congress or respond to a question about an investigation from the federal government, you have tampered with a witness. Witness tampering cases are prosecuted in federal court no matter whether the action happens in another country or in the US itself.
If you’ve been accused of this crime, you need a federal defense attorney to help you face the charges.
What You Can’t Do
Congress made a relatively recent amendment to this statute to help the language to cover more situations. It now covers the majority of ways that a person might tamper with a witness or informant. Several changes were made, one of the most significant being to make the definition of an informant broader.
Informants aren’t just people who are willingly cooperating with law enforcement by giving them information about crimes. Now an informant includes any person who knows anything about people violating their parole, probation, or bail, even if they haven’t technically committed a crime. To be classed as an informant, you need to give information to federal officers, pretrial officers, or a federal judge.
Under this federal statute, you can’t use fear, threats, intimidation, or force to keep a witness from testifying or giving important information to law enforcement. The law is intentionally written to be as broad as possible. Different actions might carry different consequences. For example, threatening to kill someone will be seen as more serious conduct than a mild case of intimidation in an office break room.
There are even cases that might seem relatively mild and harmless, where people might not realize they have tampered with the justice process. For example, if you ask someone to alter their testimony as a favor to you, you’re still guilty of a crime even if you don’t intimidate them or offer them anything in return.
Similarly, you can be guilty of witness tampering if you ask a person not to make a police report or to work with law enforcement entities to help bring a criminal perpetrator to justice.
You do not need to seriously tamper with a case in order to be charged with this crime. Simply asking a person to alter testimony is enough. Different penalties might be leveled depending on the severity of the obstruction.
The most extreme example of obstruction is having a witness killed so that they cannot testify. If you are convicted of this form of witness tampering, the sentence might include life in prison. That’s without even factoring in the sentencing for the murder itself.
If the situation involves the use of violence, physical force, or attempted murder, you can be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years behind bars. You’ll also need to pay a fine.
If the situation involves a threat, you can be given a sentence of 20 years. Similarly, intimidation and corruption both come with a potential of 20 years.
The most minor situation that counts as witness tampering is harassing a person into compromising their testimony. Even that situation comes with a maximum of three years spent behind bars.
None of these punishments take into account the sentencing you might get for other charges related to the crime. They are just for the act of tampering itself.