Crimes against public justice are taken very seriously. California criminal courts and law enforcement agencies rely on certain rights and liberties to serve their purpose effectively. One of these is obtaining testimony from witnesses of crimes. Witness testimony can play a significant role in a criminal prosecution. When taken lawfully, it can be used as evidence in criminal cases. Testimony is often a powerful form of evidence as few crimes are witnessed by actual law enforcement. Thus, dissuading a witness is a punishable offense.
Don't Tamper With the Evidence
It is a crime under California PC 136.1 to knowingly and maliciously prevent or dissuade a witness or victim from reporting a crime, or attending or providing testimony at any trial, proceeding, or inquiry authorized by law. Without this valuable piece of evidence, many cases would be open and shut and fall in the defendant's favor. Witnesses can be eyewitnesses who saw the crime or something related to the crime or expert witnesses who provide testimony that supports certain facts of the case. And if you knowingly and maliciously dissuade any witness, you could be charged with a crime.
The Elements of the Case
To be guilty of this offense, you must have done so knowingly and maliciously. If you unknowingly prevented or dissuaded a witness from testifying, you are not guilty. For example, if you talked to a witness of a crime who was scheduled to testify and unintentionally said something that dissuaded him or her, you are not guilty of a crime.
You must also have dissuaded the witness maliciously, meaning you unlawfully intended to annoy or harm someone or to interfere with justice. If you happened to provide information to a witness but did not mean to obstruct justice in any way, you are not guilty. Similarly, if your act of dissuasion was to protect a family member who was a witness, you did not act with malice.
These crucial elements must be proven for you to be convicted. You should speak with an attorney if you think the prosecutor will have a hard time proving either of these elements as you could have a strong defense. People make mistakes, say things unintentionally or accidentally, or influence others without knowing all the time. A good attorney can advise you on how you can leverage the facts of your case in your favor.
Preventing or dissuading a witness from providing testimony is punishable by up to one year in a county jail or prison. It is a wobbler offense, meaning the prosecutor can decide whether to file it as a misdemeanor or a felony charge. When charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by two, three, or four years in a state prison. Factors that can result in the offense being charged as a felony include:
- The defendant used force, violence or threat of force or violence
- The act furthered a conspiracy
- The defendant had a prior conviction
- The act was done for pecuniary gain or upon a request of another person
Unfortunately, if you try to prevent or dissuade a witness but were unsuccessful, it will have no bearing on your criminal case. As long as you had intent, you are guilty of the offense whether or not it was successful. A common example of dissuading a witness is if a man offered a woman he sexually assaulted money or favors in exchange for her silence to law enforcement. If that woman then went to law enforcement anyway and relayed what happened, the man could be charged with dissuading a witness.
Dissuading a witness is a serious offense, even more so if you used threats or violence. This type of charge should never be faced alone. If you are facing charges for a crime against public justice, talk to an experienced California criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney can thoroughly evaluate the facts and circumstances of your case and advise you on your best course of action.
If you are facing charges of assault or domestic violence offense, we can help. California attorney Christopher Martens knows California criminal defense and will help you fight for your rights. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has helped many Californians fight their charges. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.