What is Domestic Violence Witness Tampering?
Witness tampering falls into a category of crimes known as obstruction of justice that involves improperly interacting with a witness before or after trial. Witness tampering can involve influencing, threatening, harassing, coercing, manipulating, or physically harming a witness in a criminal case with the goal of convincing them not to testify truthfully - if they testify at all.
In Florida domestic violence cases, it often involves a defendant interfering with the testimony or cooperation of the alleged victim.
It can also mean preventing 911 calls. F.S. 914.22(1)(e) makes it unlawful to hinder, delay, or prevent communication to a law enforcement officer or judge information that relates to a criminal offense - or possible criminal offense. You could be charged with this if you’re accused of grabbing/throwing/destroying the victim’s phone while they’re trying to call for help, hanging up on their 911 call, or in some other way impairing their ability to contact law enforcement. Harassing a witness, victim, or informant is also unlawful under this statute. Conviction for harassing a witness or preventing a 911 call is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Another witness tampering charge is retaliating against a witness, as outlined in F.S. 914.23. This statute prohibits anyone knowingly engaging in any conduct that causes bodily injury to another person or damages the tangible property of another person, or threatens to do so in retaliation for attending an official proceeding as a witness or providing information regarding the commission or possible commission of a crime or violation of a condition of probation, parole, or judicial release.
At the federal level, witness tampering is prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. 1512. Even if you never physically harm anyone, a conviction under this statute can result in a three-year prison term.
As our Broward domestic violence defense lawyers can explain, it’s often best for criminal case defendants to avoid any kind of contact with the alleged victim while the matter is pending or being investigated. We recognize this can be tough in some domestic violence cases because it involves people with whom you have close personal ties - spouses, cohabitants, co-parents, etc. However, if there’s a contact order or injunction, you have no choice but to avoid them - or risk a violation that will land you back behind bars.
But even if there is no injunction, consider this: Regardless of your intentions, anything you do or say could to a witness or potential in a case in which you’re a defendant could be misinterpreted and potentially used against you in court. That’s why if you aren’t sure, seek guidance from your attorney before you make contact - for any reason.Examples of Witness Tampering in Florida Domestic Violence Cases
Victims’ advocates argue that witness tampering in domestic violence cases is more often subtle, sometimes effective, and less frequently prosecuted than it might be in other cases.
Witness tampering can involve coercion, manipulation, misleading conduct, or offering a benefit or gain. Threats can be implied as well as explicit. The big question for the court is whether the intent for engaging in such conduct was to cause or induce someone not to testify or cooperate in an official proceeding. And in domestic violence cases, that’s not always clear.
Prosecutors in Florida as well as other jurisdictions have asserted that intimidation or manipulation of a witness in a domestic violence case might involve actions like:
- Offering to pay more child support or spousal support.
- Threatening to pursue sole custody of the kids.
- Presenting or promise to present a witness with valuable or sentimental gifts, such as jewelry, a vehicle, a vacation, etc.
- Threatening to make sensitive information public, such as details about one’s sexuality, gender identity, substance abuse issue, or issues that might result in cultural or religious sanctions for the victim.
- Begging for forgiveness, another chance, etc.
- Threatening suicide or self-harm.
- Promising to stop drinking, get counseling, get married, etc.
- Threatening divorce.
- Threatening to call law enforcement on the victim for their role in another offense.
- Vandalizing or causing other property damage.
- Threatening to report the witness to the Department of Children and Families.
- Threatening to call immigration authorities.
Obviously, threats, physical attacks, and vandalism are crimes, and it may not be hard for prosecutors to prove witness tampering in these situations. However, the basis for criminal prosecution may be less clear when it comes to things like buying extravagant gifts for an estranged spouse. The challenge for prosecutors would be proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the underlying intent was to cause or induce the key witness in a pending domestic violence case not to cooperate with state attorneys. That could be difficult.
However, as longtime defense lawyers, we can acknowledge prosecutors might not have an easy go of it while also stressing to clients the severity of the consequences if one is convicted. A person accused of witness tampering in a domestic violence case - particularly if the result was a tangible impact on the case - is often facing a felony. An experienced defense attorney helps to protect your rights and fight back against serious these kinds of allegations.Defenses in Domestic Violence Witness Tampering Cases
Witness tampering is a crime of intent. If there’s no evidence you tried to persuade or convince the other person not to cooperate with police or authorities, the case might fall apart.
Some of the defenses that may be raised in a Florida witness tampering cases include:
- The contact alleged never occurred.
- The contact served a legitimate purpose.
- The contact was intended only to encourage the witness to testify truthfully.
It’s not necessarily a defense to argue that the “official proceeding” in question wasn’t actually pending or about to be initiated or that the testimony, record, document, or other evidence wasn’t admissible.
Your Broward County defense lawyer can review the facts and determine the strength of the state’s case and the legal defense strategies that may be most effective for your situation.
If you are accused of witness tampering in a Florida domestic violence case in Broward, Miami, and Palm Beach Counties, call The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.