If you follow the news, you’ve undoubtedly heard and seen the term “witness tampering” time and again. In recent years, a number of public figures have been accused – either formally or in the news media – of witness tampering or witness intimidation in the midst of ongoing federal investigations.
And while the latest headlines deal with witness tampering on a federal level, tampering with a witness can also be a state crime. In other words, tampering with a witness can result in state or federal charges, both of which can carry serious penalties. Here’s what you need to know about the crime and consequences of witness tampering in Texas and on the federal level.
What exactly is witness tampering?
Generally speaking, tampering with a witness occurs when someone engages in conduct to alter or silence the testimony of a witness in a criminal or civil matter. If the tampering occurs in a state proceeding, it will be prosecuted as a state case. If the tampering occurs in a federal matter, it will be handled federally. Regardless of whether it’s a state or federal case, witness tampering or witness intimidation can come in many forms, including:
- Sending threatening or intimidating messages to a witness in an effort to prevent or influence testimony.
- Threatening physical force to keep a witness from testifying.
- Trying to bribe a witness with money or gifts to influence their testimony.
- Blackmailing a witness in an attempt to prevent or influence their testimony.
- Persuading a witness to lie at a crime scene or in court.
- Threatening to take away or take custody of the witnesses’ children.
- Threatening to harm their family if they testify.
- Using Twitter, Facebook or other social media to intimidate or frighten a witness.
What constitutes tampering with a witness in Texas?
According to Texas Penal Code 36.05, a person commits the offense of tampering with a witness if he or she seeks to influence the witness, by offering, conferring or agreeing to confer any benefits to a witness or prospective witness in an official proceeding; or he or she coerces a witness or a perspective witness in an official proceeding:
- to testify falsely
- to withhold any testimony, information, document or thing
- to elude legal process summoning him to testify or supply evidence
- to absent himself from an official proceeding to which he has been legally summoned
- to abstain from, discontinue, or delay the prosecution of another
It’s important to point out that a witness can be charged as well if he or she is persuaded to alter their testimony. The law states that a witness or prospective witness can commit an offense if he or she knowingly solicits, accepts, or agrees to any benefit on the representation or understanding that he or she will do any of things specified above.
What is the punishment for tampering with a witness in Texas?
Typically, tampering with a witness in Texas is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. There are ways it can result in a higher penalty, however.
If the official proceeding is part of the prosecution of a criminal case, the charge would be the same category of offense as the most serious offense charged in that criminal case. For example, if the tampering occurred in a second-degree arson case, the individual charged with tampering would face a second-degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison. However, if the most serious offense in the criminal case is a capital felony, the tampering with a witness offense would be a first-degree felony.
What if you are charged with tampering in a family violence case in Texas?
In Texas, lawmakers recognize that tampering with a witness is often prevalent in cases involving family violence. It’s not uncommon, for example, for the actor to purchase gifts in an effort to silence testimony; to physical or verbally intimidate the victim; or threaten to take their children. In response, the legislature has increased the punishment when tampering with a witness is linked to an official proceeding involving a family violence charge. It will be the greater of either:
- a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine; or
- the most serious offense charged in the criminal case
Additionally, if under these same circumstances, it is shown at trial that that defendant has been previously convicted, in Texas or any other state, of a family violence offense the charge will be the greater of either:
- a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine; or
- the most serious offense charged in the criminal case
What constitutes federal witness tampering?
Tampering with a witness, or witness intimidation, is a form of obstruction of justice in the federal system. Under 18 U.S.C. 1512, it is a federal crime to tamper with a “witness, victim or an informant.” The statue is quite broad, but it basically makes it a federal offense to kill, use physical force, or intimidation to influence, delay or prevent the testimony of a witness in any official proceeding.
What is the punishment for tampering with a federal witness?
The punishment for federal witness tampering depends on the severity of the crime. Killing a witness is punishable by up to life in prison. Using physical force to intimidate a witness is punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison. However, most federal cases of witness tampering – which involve intimidation, threats or corrupt persuasion – are punishable by up to 20 years in a federal prison.
Examples of Tampering Charges
In the current political climate, we see public figures being accused of tampering with a witness, but tampering charges can be brought against anybody. Here’s some examples of people charged with tampering with a witness:
- In January 2019, Roger Stone, a political consultant, was charged with federal witness tampering after he allegedly attempted to influence or prevent the testimony of a radio personality in regard to an investigation into Russian collusion.
- In November 2017, two men were charged with witness tampering in a North Texas federal case after sending threatening text messages to victims and witnesses who were cooperating in the prosecution of a child sex trafficking ring.
- In September 2018, two Archer County, Texas, women were charged with tampering with a witness after a victim in a sexual assault of a child case said he had recanted his statements two years earlier about the sexual abuse due to coercion by the women.
- In November 2018, a former Constable’s deputy was indicted by grand jury on a charge of tampering with a witness. Officials said that the deputy had recently been fired and his Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) license was suspended amid an investigation into his personal use of a department vehicle and falsifying government documents. It was during this investigation when he was captured on surveillance sliding a note under the door of a Forney Sub-Courthouse that allegedly threatened the safety of several individuals in connection with his TCOLE review.
- In another November 2018 case, a Waco man plead guilty to charges of tampering with a witness and was sentenced to 12 months plus one day in federal prison, followed by two years’ supervised release. Officials said the man conspired with a federal inmate over the phone to intimidate witnesses who were planning to testify or appear in the inmate’s firearms trial.
- In January 2019, a woman in Forney, Texas, was charged with tampering with a witness, in addition to other charges, after it was found that she had allegedly coerced her biological son to lie about what had happened the night that a foster child in her care had passed away.
Accused of tampering with a witness in Texas? We can help.
If you or a loved one have been accused of tampering with a witness at the state or federal level, it’s important to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. With decades of criminal law experience, our team of North Texas defense attorneys have the knowledge to aggressively defend your case. We have handled thousands of state and federal criminal cases and have tried more than 550 cases before juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. When we walk into a courtroom, we bring our A-Game. Call us today at 817-203-2220 for a complimentary strategy session. You can also contact us online.