What is Witness Intimidation?

What is Witness Intimidation?

An attempt to dissuade a witness from testifying at a trial or other proceeding.

When you’re a party to a criminal or civil proceeding, you’re generally prohibited from directly communicating with any witness, informant, or victim. These rules are in place to protect those who are testifying from witness intimidation, harassment or threats, as well as to encourage the free flow of information in court.

Witness intimidation, often known as “witness tampering” in California is when someone: 

  • Attempts to dissuade a witness from testifying at a trial or other proceeding, or
  • Attempts to prevent a victim or witness from making a complaint or police report.

Can a tweet be witness intimidation?

Not all witness intimidation is done in the courthouse parking lot by men wearing ski masks. Intimidation, like cyber bulling, can certainly been done online, and is growing more common over social media. 

Online intimidation has been going on for some time. As early as 2013, a woman used Facebook in an attempt to intimidate a witness in her boyfriend’s attempted murder trial. The Pennsylvania woman referred to a witness as a “rat” and told him to stay silent in a direct message.  The message resulted in her eventual criminal conviction. 

It’s safe to assume Twitter is not immune to witness intimidation. Although most witness intimidation includes a threat of violence, it’s not a required element.

Is an attempt to intimidate enough?

Generally, an attempt to commit a crime is just as bad as committing the actual crime under the eyes of the law. California Penal Code 136.1. specifically makes it a crime if one:

“Knowingly and maliciously attempts to prevent or dissuade any witness or victim from attending or giving testimony at any trial, proceeding, or inquiry authorized by law.”

What's the penalty?

Attempting to intimidate a witness is a crime. Depending on the severity of the actions, the crime may be a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors, by definition, are punishable by no more than 1 year in prison. Felonies, by definition, require a minimum of a 1 year sentence. 

In California, whether the act will be considered a misdemeanor or felony will depend on whether the alleged actions included any of the following:

(1) Where the act is accompanied by force or by an express or implied threat of force or violence, upon a witness or victim or any third person or the property of any victim, witness, or any third person.

(2) Where the act is in furtherance of a conspiracy.

(3) Where the act is committed by any person who has been convicted of any violation of this section, any predecessor law hereto or any federal statute or statute of any other state which, if the act prosecuted was committed in this state, would be a violation of this section.

(4) Where the act is committed by any person for pecuniary gain or for any other consideration acting upon the request of any other person. All parties to such a transaction are guilty of a felony.

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