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Witness Tampering: Definition, Laws & Examples

Instructor: Vericia Miller

Vericia has a masters in criminal justice.

In this lesson, we will learn about and give examples of witness tampering. We will also discuss the severity of the crime and consequences that can be issued depending on the charges received in court.

Witness Tampering

Tim is arrested for possession of a firearm with the intent to endanger life. As a close friend of Tim's for the last ten years, not only do you know that he is a member of a local gang, but you are also his closest confidant. You receive a summons from the court to testify in his trial. One week before the court date, you receive a phone call from Tim asking you to lie during your testimony. You're scared, and although you don't want to see your friend go to prison, you also don't want to commit perjury on the stand either. Tim can tell by the tone in your voice that you're uneasy, so he threatens you by saying, ''If you don't do this for me, I promise you'll be sorry.'' This is a clear example of witness tampering.

Witness tampering is when a witness has been threatened or dissuaded in some way to not accurately testify against the offender. When a witness is influenced to not testify at all, or is convinced to skew the testimony so that it leans in the offender's favor, tampering is evident. In the example concerning Tim, a verbal threat was used to intimidate the witness from testifying honestly. One can be intimidated or influenced in many different ways; bribing someone with cash, threatening someone through social media, and even worse, using violent force to prevent a witness from testifying altogether. It is important to note that the term ''witness tampering'' is a bit of a misnomer because crime victims can also be threatened not to testify; it can also happen in both criminal and civil cases.

Witness tampering is a very serious crime because it can negatively impact the outcome of a case. It can prevent justice from being served, cause a dangerous person to be acquitted, and is a slap in the face to the victims of crime who deserve to be vindicated. Tampering is typically considered a misdemeanor, but can be a felony if the offender has a prior tampering conviction on his record or if force was used to influence the witness. Every state has different rules regarding the consequences a person receives when charged with tampering. If charged and convicted with misdemeanor tampering in the state of California, you can face up to a year in jail, a hefty fine, and possibly a 10-year restriction on carrying a firearm. When it's a felony tampering charge, you can be imprisoned for up to 10 years or more. As a victim of tampering in any way, you should get in contact with local law enforcement or an attorney.

Example of Tampering: Maui Police Officer

In October of 2015, Sgt. Ahuna assisted his cousin Kaina (who was also in law enforcement) in bribing a witness who was set to testify against fellow Maui Police Officer Maldanado. The witness was a driver who was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. According to the driver, Maldanado stole $1800 from him during the stop. The very next day, the driver reported the incident. Maldanado was likely afraid of losing his job and being accused of doing something that's unethical on anyone's terms, but particularly by someone who is paid to uphold the law. Officers Maldanado and Kaina told Sgt. Ahuna what happened, including their plan to bribe the driver with money. Although Ahuna was originally not in agreement and tried to change their minds, he still participated by driving Kaina to an area close to the driver's home, who followed through with the bribe attempt.

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