Both federal and state laws prohibit tampering with evidence. Tampering with, erasing, or hiding tangible proof in a criminal investigation or legal case is a felony.
Continue reading to learn more.
Evidence: What Is It?
Evidence is any record, item, or document pertinent to a criminal inquiry or investigation. This covers material things like narcotics, weapons, and clothes. It also contains information that is only available digitally, such as papers, movies, photos, etc.
In court, not all proof is admissible. There are limitations on what the prosecution may present as a document in a criminal trial. Note that evidence gathered unlawfully s inadmissible.
There are certain restrictions on what can lead to charges when it comes to tampering. It is a very wide phrase that appears to include any activity that hides a crime. For instance, a person knowingly involving in a crime does not mean that they understood there is an inquiry into that crime.
What Does Evidence Tampering Mean?
When someone purposefully changes, hides, falsifies, or destroys any physical thing with the aim to obstruct a federal investigation, potential inquiry, or other proceedings, they are guilty of tampering with evidence under federal law. (18 U.S.C. § 1519.) A violation of state laws also makes tampering with evidence in official proceedings and inquiries illegal.
Tampering With Evidence: Components of the Offense
It is the responsibility of the prosecution to establish each element of a crime in order to demonstrate guilt. A conviction requires the demonstration of each of these extremely precise characteristics with absolute certainty. The following are the fundamental components of evidence tampering:
The accused’s mental condition is a key component of this offense. Proof must have been intentionally and deliberately tampered with, according to the prosecution. Simple abandonment (throwing away) or accidental destruction is insufficient to establish purpose. Additionally, certain legislation can need for awareness of the inquiry or procedure.
When someone takes action, they are conscious of the likelihood that a particular outcome will arise from it. When facing a charge of tampering, the defendant must know there is a good likelihood that their acts may taint the evidence.
Every tangible item or document that may be produced in a trial, inquiry, or other legal process falls under this category. It also includes recorded videos and digital photos.
Awareness of Pending Investigation
It would seem logical that anyone committing a crime would be aware that they may be the subject of an inquiry. Even though the accused took part in an “obvious crime,” the prosecution still has to show that the evidence was tampered with in order to support its case in the present or in the future.
Common Counterarguments to Evidence Tampering
A person accused of tampering with evidence may raise a number of defenses, as with most offenses. Let’s look at a couple of them.
Lack of Information
A person who can demonstrate that she had no idea that a damaged or destroyed piece of evidence was actually evidence would be acquitted. If the janitor in the above case can demonstrate that she only worked at night, had no interaction with the persons in the offices she cleaned, had no idea what business they were in, and had no knowledge of their unlawful actions, she will be able to escape a conviction.
Absence of Intent
Even if someone destroys or modifies evidence without intending to interfere with a governmental inquiry or procedure, they have not tampered with evidence. Cheech could not be prosecuted for tampering with evidence if he had completed the joint normally before hearing the police siren. While he would have destroyed proof of drug possession and usage, his purpose was to get high, not to hide the joint.
What Is the Penalty for Tampering with Evidence?
The federal government takes evidence tampering seriously. Therefore, those found guilty under federal law may receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, a fine, or both (18 U.S.C. 1519).
State penalties differ; some make it a felony offense, while others make it a felony to tamper with a felony investigation or case and a misdemeanor to tamper with less serious cases. You should check your state
Consider Getting Legal Advice
As that potential punishment shows, tampering with evidence is a serious offense that can occur in a variety of circumstances. If you have any concerns about a crime or an inquiry, as with any significant legal issue, be careful to speak with a criminal law expert.