DUI arrests don't always lead to convictions in court. Police officer mistakes, faulty breathalyzers and crime lab errors may get your charges reduced or dismissed. Visit our California DUI page to learn more.
You deleted a text message string that involved a contract you entered into on a business deal. Your deletion took place during a civil lawsuit brought by the other party to the contract. Could your deletion result in criminal charges?
Maybe. You could face destroying evidence charges if you:
willfully destroy or conceal evidence, and
do so when the evidence is to be produced during a legal proceeding.
The criminal laws of most states say that the destruction of evidence is a misdemeanor offense. The crime is typically punishable by:
custody in county jail, and/or
1. When can you be charged with destroying or concealing evidence?
Most jurisdictions say that you can face destruction of evidence charges if:
you willfully destroy, alter, erase, or conceal “evidence,”
do so knowing that the evidence is to be produced during a legal or court proceeding, and
do so with the intent to prevent the evidence from being produced.1
Given the above elements, questions often arise as to the meaning of:
2. What does it mean to act willfully?
You typically commit an act “willfully” if you perform the act voluntarily and/or intentionally.2
Given this definition, it is always a defense to a destruction of evidence charge if you destroyed evidence on accident or inadvertently.
For example, you will likely not be charged with a crime if you mistakenly discarded or altered pieces of physical evidence. But you will be charged with a crime if you erased or destroyed certain evidence with a purposeful intent to do so.
3. What is “evidence”?
“Evidence” generally refers to any object or item that a party to a legal proceeding offers in order to prove an alleged fact.3
Evidence can include things like:
concrete objects (like a murder weapon),
hard drives, and
If you happened to alter or erase something related to an official proceeding that is not “evidence,” you will not usually face a criminal case.
4. What is a legal proceeding?
The term “legal proceeding” can refer to a variety of different proceedings.
a criminal investigation by law enforcement officers/police officers,
a criminal trial,
a civil trial, and/or
5. Is the destruction of evidence the same as the crime of obstruction of justice?
Generally, no. In contrast to the destruction of evidence, many states say that the obstruction of justice refers to the crime where you:
knowingly try to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information to the police, and
do so when the information is regarding the commission of a crime.5
Note, though, that some states do not recognize a specific offense of obstruction of justice. In these jurisdictions, obstruction of justice might refer to the more specific acts of:
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.