What Happens If I Tamper With A Witness
Tampering with a witness can lead to serious criminal charges and penalties. This article will explain what witness tampering is, the laws against it, penalties you may face, and legal defenses.
Why is Witness Tampering Illegal?
Laws against witness tampering aim to protect the integrity of the justice system. Witnesses provide important evidence that helps determine guilt or innocence in criminal cases. Tampering with witnesses undermines the ability to find the truth. It also makes victims and witnesses afraid to report crimes or cooperate with law enforcement out of fear of retaliation.
Federal Laws Against Witness Tampering
At the federal level, witness tampering is prosecuted under 18 U.S. Code § 1512. This law makes it illegal to:
- Use intimidation, threats, corrupt persuasion or misleading conduct to influence, delay or prevent testimony
- Cause or induce any person to withhold testimony or destroy evidence
- Harm a witness to prevent them from testifying
Federal charges can be brought if the tampering:
- Occurs within U.S. territory
- Involves tampering with a federal witness
- Uses interstate communications like phone calls or mail
- Happens outside the U.S. but involves U.S. citizens
State Laws Against Witness Tampering
Most states also have laws prohibiting witness tampering or intimidation. For example, California Penal Code 136.1 PC makes it illegal to knowingly and maliciously prevent or dissuade a witness or victim from testifying in court, reporting a crime, or making an arrest.
Other state laws are similar and apply to tampering with witnesses in state criminal and civil cases. Check your state’s criminal statutes for the specific laws.
What Happens if You Are Charged?
Being charged with witness tampering is a serious matter with potentially severe penalties. Here is what you can expect:
- You will be arrested and taken into police custody. For serious federal charges, the FBI may be involved.
- You will be read your Miranda rights. It is important to invoke your right to remain silent until you have legal counsel.
- You will be booked, photographed, fingerprinted and held until you can post bail. Bail amount depends on the charges.
- Prosecutors will file formal charges against you, starting the criminal case. Charges may be at the federal or state level depending on the circumstances.
- Your first court appearance will be an arraignment where charges are read and you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
- After your arraignment, prosecutors will share evidence with your defense attorney during the discovery process. Your lawyer can then start building defense strategies.
- You may negotiate a plea bargain to reduce charges or sentencing, or take your case to trial.