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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 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?

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?

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 for this offense?

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

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, Court TV, 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.

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