It is against the law in California to intimidate, threaten, or meddle with a witness of) a crime, according to Penal Code 136.1 PC. This entails trying to stop a witness or victim, to put it simply, from mentioning a crime in testimony and reports or otherwise assisting law enforcement or prosecutors. Witness intimidation has a possible term of up to 4 years in jail or prison and is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
The offense of dissuading a witness, often known as witness tampering, is defined under California PC 136.1. A victim or witness of a crime who is prevented from reporting the incident or testifying about it may be guilty of this offense. A significant offense with negative repercussions is witness tampering. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will help you build a strong defense if you are accused of attempting to intimidate a witness or victim.
What it Means to Dissuade a Witness
Knowing that someone may have witnessed you breaking the law, you approach them to explain your actions. You might advise them not to speak up or try to change their minds about what they witnessed. You just broke the law against intimidating witnesses and can be prosecuted for a crime or misdemeanor.
What The Prosecution Must Prove
To find someone guilty under this code section, the prosecution must demonstrate the following:
The prosecution must establish specific aspects of the offense to proceed with a charge of witness tampering. The prosecution must demonstrate that you behaved willfully and intentionally. To behave consciously is to do so with purpose.
Additionally, you must stop or discourage a witness or victim. To be guilty, you do not need to successfully convince or stop a witness or victim. You might be guilty under PC 136.1 if you tried to stop a victim from disclosing information about a crime.
It should be obvious that you stopped or convinced a witness or victim not to do something:
- Attending a court hearing or giving testimony.
- Helping or supporting the arresting process.
- Reporting or alerting law enforcement to a crime.
- Helping with the legal processes.
Phrases Used in the Crime Elements
According to the law, any individual who thinks a state or federal crime has been committed against them is considered a victim. PC 136.1 does not require you to convince a victim or witness not to be guilty successfully. It is sufficient to make an effort to deter or discourage a victim or witness.
The offender of the crime of witness tampering must have a clear motive for doing so. Therefore, you cannot be found guilty unless you committed the offense with knowledge or intent. Additionally, the offense must have been committed with intent. You can only intentionally act if you know that doing so may subject you to legal repercussions. Malicious behavior suggests that you intend to hurt or upset someone else.
PC 136.1 generally defines what a witness is. In other words, someone who has heard, seen, or witnessed a fact pertinent to a case qualifies as a witness. An individual sworn in or summoned to testify in court during a judicial trial or hearing might fall under this category. In other instances, it could refer to a person who reports a crime. The judge will eventually review the circumstances of your case to determine whether you had a reasonable belief that the person you intimidated was a witness or not.
witnesses/ victim tampering
Most individuals are frequently perplexed about whether witness intimidation or tampering are the same. Although witness tampering occasionally involves force or threats, it can also include intimidation. Interfering with anything is referred to as tampering. A witness persuaded during a trial may alter their testimony, much as someone who tampers with a smartphone might violate the warranty.
How a Witness Could be Dissuaded
There are several strategies for convincing a witness. Sometimes you may not even be aware that you are influencing a witness. For instance, if you seize or conceal the victim's phone to stop them from calling the police, you may be charged with witness tampering. It is illegal to take a witness or victim's phone when the witness or victim indicates that they plan to call the police and then refuse to return it.
Sometimes you might not be involved in the case and just communicate on someone else's behalf. You may still violate PC 136.1 if you intimidate a witness or victim on behalf of another person. It is criminal to dissuade a witness on someone else's behalf.
Perhaps you have already told the victim or witness that you would be disappointed in them if they helped the prosecution. If the victim or witness had cooperated with the police, you may have intimidated them by saying you would bring other individuals to deal with them. The acts mentioned above would prevent a witness or victim's ability to provide information about a crime.
A victim or witness may have testified in the past despite your efforts to stop or discourage them from doing so. Even if the victim did not submit to your intimidation, you would still violate PC 136.1.
Possible penalties for Dissuading a Witness/Victim
It is a wobbler crime to intimidate a victim or a witness. As a result, the prosecutor may accuse you of a crime or a misdemeanor. The charges are determined by the circumstances of your case and your criminal record. If you are found guilty of a misdemeanor, you might be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and a year in prison. If found guilty of a crime, you might face a maximum sentence of four years in jail and penalties as high as $10,000.
If one of the following is true, Penal Code Section 136.1 PC is a felony:
The goal of the conspiracy was to dissuade the victim or the witness. In this context, a conspiracy is an arrangement between two or more persons to intimidate the victim. You will be charged with a felony if it can be proven that you participated in the conspiracy and attempted to carry out the agreement when you committed the offense.
You were previously found guilty of deterring a victim. When you commit a crime again, the legal system considers that the punishment you received for the prior violation was insufficient to deter you from committing crimes in the future. To guarantee that you receive the most severe punishment possible, the prosecution could pursue a felony conviction.
You were employed by someone else to deter the alleged victim. You would be charged with a crime if you dissuaded a victim while carrying out someone else's command.
You assaulted the victim or witness with force, aggression, or threats. However, to be found guilty of intimidating a victim or a witness with violence or threats is not required. However, if these conditions exist, you might be charged with a crime under PC 136.1 and convicted.
How It Affects Your Gun Rights
In California, a conviction for witness tampering could also impact your right to bear arms. The court may impose a ten-year gun ownership ban if you are guilty of witness tampering. A misdemeanor witness tampering conviction will result in a ten-year weapon ownership prohibition. You might be permanently denied access to firearms if you are convicted of witness tampering as a felony.
Immigration Repercussions for Penal Code 136.1 Violations
If you are convicted of intimidating a victim or witness, it might hurt your immigration situation. According to U.S. immigration regulations, some offenses may cause an immigrant to be deemed inadmissible and deported. Aggravated felonies fall within the category of offenses with a deportability or inadmissibility. Keep in mind that breaking PC 136.1 can occasionally result in a crime. Therefore, it suggests that you could be designated as inadmissible or deported if the circumstances of your offense suggest that you committed an aggravated crime.
Three Strikes Law
Witness tampering is a serious felony under the Three Strikes Law, and a conviction might result in a strike against the defendant's criminal record. If you have a prior strike and are subsequently found guilty of a crime in California, you are considered a second striker. You will get twice as much time. If you have two prior convictions for felonies and are found guilty of a third, you are a third striker. You will also serve a term of 25 years to life in jail.
If you used a pistol to dissuade the witness, your punishment would be enhanced by at least one year and up to 10 years. The penalties under Penal Code Section 136.1 PC are in addition to and follow this sentence.
Great Bodily Harm Enhancement
The term "great bodily injury" refers to any serious physical harm to a person. You will be subject to a punishment enhancement under California PC 12022.7 if you cause GBI to another person while committing a felony. You would receive an extra three to six years in jail if you injured the victim significantly while using force and violence to discourage them.
Expunging a PC 136.1 Conviction Record
You might ask your lawyer to assist you in seeking an expungement of the conviction after being found guilty of a felony involving witness tampering. However, you cannot submit an expungement application until the allocated probationary term has ended and all probationary requirements have been met. If the judge recommended jail time, you must serve the whole term before requesting the conviction be erased.
If you break the terms of your probation, you can still apply to have the conviction wiped out. However, the judge's discretion will largely determine whether a conviction may be expunged following a probation violation. You will be free from any restrictions and punishments resulting from the witness tampering conviction when it is expunged.
You will not have to be concerned that the potential employer will learn about your past conviction when you apply for the positions you want. Additionally, you will not be denied employment or a license in the US because of a previous conviction. The conviction record will not appear in your background check results after an expungement. The FBI and other law enforcement databases will still access the conviction record.
As a result, you will be considered a repeat offender if you engage in witness tampering after the initial violation has been expunged.
Are There Defenses To Witness Tampering?
You should contact a criminal defense attorney if you are being investigated under PC 136.1. A knowledgeable defense attorney can evaluate the particulars of your case, do a thorough investigation to refute the police officer's report, and then work with you to create a thorough defense plan. An experienced and reputable attorney can fight the allegations that you intimidated a victim or witness by using several defenses, including:
It will not satisfy the burden of proof to find the defendant guilty if the prosecution team lacks the supporting evidence to convict the defendant. In "they said" situations, in particular, this is accurate. Text messages, letters, audio, and video recordings from phone calls, voicemails, and emails are a few examples of concrete evidence.
Lack of Malice
When you act maliciously, you intend to irritate, hurt, or antagonize someone else. You can contest witness tampering allegations if you can persuade the court that your actions were not malicious. You may, for instance, be a relative of either the victim or the witness. You might claim that your actions were not malicious and that you only wanted to keep them safe.
Lack of Knowledge
By claiming that you were unaware that a person was a victim or a witness to a crime, you might also refute the accusations of witness tampering. For instance, you may have spoken with the individual about how victims of crimes frequently pass away without realizing they were victims of a crime. You can claim that you had no idea the individual was a witness if they subsequently accused you of trying to stop them from testifying or stopping them altogether.
You cannot be charged with witness tampering as long as it is clear that you were unaware that a person was a witness or victim of a crime. You can only be found guilty if your actions are willful and malicious.
In cases of domestic abuse, the false allegation defense frequently comes up. It occurs when one partner goes to the police and makes up stories about being assaulted and threatened with additional violence if they report the crime.
By asserting they were falsely charged, the other spouse in this scenario can defeat the claims of dissuading the claimed victim. Your defense lawyer should look into the situation more thoroughly and ensure the truth comes out.
Not a Victim or Witness
You can only be found in violation of PC 136.1 if you intimidated or discouraged a victim or witness. As a result, you might attempt to clear your name by arguing that even if you might have intimidated someone, that person was not a witness to or victim of any crime. Be aware that you might still be found guilty of a different offense under PC 422, making criminal threats.
Lack of Intent
If you did not intend to stop a witness or claimed victim from helping the prosecution or testifying, you could not be found guilty of witness tampering. For instance, you cannot be found guilty if you discussed how snitches got stitches with someone else while being completely uninformed that they were a victim or witness of an incident.
Are there related offenses to Dissuading A Witness Or Victim?
Because they share several features, many crimes have some connection to the crime of intimidating a witness or victim. Because of this, offenses like these may be charged in addition to or instead of violating PC 136.1. The most typical instances of these violations are:
Criminal threats – PC 422
Criminal threats, often known as terrorist threats, entail threatening someone with urgent violence. The prosecution should be able to show that you knew you would make the victims afraid and that you did make them afraid.
A prosecutor must demonstrate several components to prove criminal threats, including:
- That you knowingly threatened to harm or murder someone else.
- Your message, whether delivered orally, in writing or electronically, was a warning.
- The threat was unqualified, unambiguous, quick, and precise.
- The individual you threatened was afraid for their safety or the safety of their family due to your threat.
You should be aware that even if you do not address the victim personally, you may still violate California law if you make criminal threats. For instance, if you tell your companion to shoot your opponent while fighting, you may be making a criminal threat. You may be liable for criminal threats if it is clear that you meant for your comment to be taken as a threat.
Criminal threat charges can be brought against you even if you do not specifically threaten to conduct a crime against the victim. Charges will be brought against you if you threaten to murder or harm the victim. Great bodily injuries refer to severe physical harm.
You can verbally threaten someone with illegal activity by speaking directly to the target. Another option is to make a written criminal threat. A criminal threat may also be transmitted electronically by phone, email, SMS, or other channels.
Criminal threats may result in misdemeanor or felony penalties, just as witness tampering. If found guilty of making criminal threats, you might spend up to a year in jail and pay up to $1,000 in fines. If convicted of a felony criminal threat, the maximum sentence is three years in jail and a fine of no more than $10,000.
Kidnapping – PC 207
According to PC 207, it is illegal to relocate a victim a considerable distance while also using force or terror. Kidnapping normally has no negative effects on immigration, unlike witness tampering. Depending on the specifics of the offense, several punishments may be imposed for kidnapping. Simple abduction carries a maximum sentence of eight years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. If the circumstances are serious, the sentence may be increased to life in prison.
Bribery of a Witness Regarding Trial Attendance - PC 138(a)
It is against the law to give, offer, or promise to provide a witness with something of value to bribe them into testifying against you. A felony conviction under PC 138(a) carries a maximum four-year jail term.
Influencing Testimony - PC 137(a)
California PC 137(a) addresses the issue of paying a witness in exchange for testimony in court. It also applies to witnesses who provide police or prosecutors with crucial information regarding an offense. According to this law, offering, providing, or making a promise to provide a witness with something of value to influence their testimony is unlawful. A witness may not be coerced into withholding information or giving false evidence using fraud, threats of force, or physical coercion. Bribery of a witness about testimony is normally a crime, whose punishment is a maximum of four years in jail.
Find a Riverside Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
By threatening or interfering with a witness to sway the outcome of a criminal case, you run the danger of being detained and charged under California PC 136.1. The prosecutors and courts take the accusation of dissuading a victim or witness seriously. This makes a conviction for the crime extremely serious and potentially life-altering. Fortunately, not everyone accused of violating this legislation will be found guilty. You can fight the accusations and avert the repercussions of a conviction if you have a strong legal team on your side.
You should not be reluctant to seek legal advice if you or a loved one is accused of intimidating a witness or a victim. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will walk you through the process of building a strong defense. We assist clients who require legal advice or counsel while they fight Penal Code 136.1 accusations. Call us at 951-946-6366 right now if you would want us to help you through the challenging legal system.