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What are Some Examples of Witness Intimidation Under California Law?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jan 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

man intimidating witness
Witness intimidation can lead to jail time

Under California Penal Code 136.1 PC, it is a crime for a person to intimidate, or discourage, a witness or victim from either:

  1. reporting a crime, or
  2. testifying about a crime.

Some examples of witness intimidation include:

  • the defendant in an upcoming criminal trial mails a newspaper article about the murder of a witness in another criminal case to a woman who is scheduled to testify against him.
  • a thief knows that a woman saw him steal a diamond necklace, so he calls her and states that “bad things will happen” if police find out about the crime.
  • after an unwanted sexual encounter, the man offers the woman money in exchange for a promise that she not go to the police and report that he has raped her.

Depending on the facts of a case, a violation of PC 136.1 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under California 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 under California Penal Code 136.1?

Penal Code 136.1 is the California statute that says it is a crime for a person to intimidate a witness or victim.

A person is guilty of witness intimidation under this statute if all of the following are true:

  1. a defendant knowingly and maliciously,
  2. prevented or dissuaded, or attempted to prevent or dissuade,
  3. a victim or witness from:
  • attending or testifying at a judicial proceeding,
  • reporting a crime,
  • aiding in the prosecution process, or
  • aiding in the arrest process.

Please note that a “witness” is someone:

  • who knows about the facts of a crime,
  • whose declaration under oath may be received as evidence,
  • who has reported a crime, 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 under Penal Code 136.1?

Some further examples of witness intimidation under PC 136.1 include:

  • Carl knows that a man is going to testify against his girlfriend at her criminal trial, so he confronts him and tells the man that he'll hurt his family 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 abuse, so she sends him threatening emails saying bad things happen to “rats.”

What are the penalties if a person violates Penal Code 136.1?

A violation of Penal Code 136.1 is 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 a case.

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:

  • imprisonment in the California state prison for 16 months to four years; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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