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Depending on the facts of a case, alleged intimidators can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony under California criminal law. No matter how the crime is charged, though, it can lead to serious jail time and substantial fines.
What is the legal definition of intimidating a witness?
Penal Code 136.1 is the California criminal justice system statute that says it is a crime for a person to intimidate a witness or victim.
A person is guilty of witness tampering under this statute if all of the following are true:
a defendant knowingly and maliciously,
prevented or dissuaded, or attempted to prevent or dissuade,
a victim or witness from:
attending or giving witness testimony at a judicial proceeding / legal proceeding (such as a criminal court trial or grand jury proceeding),
reporting a crime to law enforcement officers or the district attorney,
aiding in the prosecution process, or
aiding in the arrest process.
Please note that a potential witness is someone:
who knows about the facts of a crime under local, state or federal law,
whose declaration under oath may be received as evidence,
who has reported a potential criminal case, or
who has been served with a subpoena.
For purposes of this offense, if the defendant reasonably believes that the person he/she is attempting to dissuade meets these criteria, that person is considered a witness.
What are some more examples of witness intimidation?
Some further examples of witness intimidation under PC 136.1 include:
Carl knows that a man is going to testify against his boss at his organized crime trial, so he confronts him and tells the man that he’ll hurt his family members and inflict property damage if he takes the stand.
Jose lures several women to his apartment, traps them there, and then attacks one to convince the others that filing a police report is a bad idea.
Debbie knows that her ex-boyfriend may report her to authorities for domestic violence and other violent crimes, so she sends him threatening emails and text messages and makes phone calls saying physical violence happens to “rats.”
What are the penalties for this offense?
A violation of Penal Code 136.1 is a wobbler offense under California law. This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the specific facts of such cases.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punishable by:
imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year; and/or,
a maximum fine of $1,000.
If charged as a felony, witness intimidation is punishable by:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.