Under California Penal Code 136.1 PC, it is a crime for a person to intimidate, or discourage, a witness or victim from either:
- reporting a crime, or
- 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:
- a defendant knowingly and maliciously,
- prevented or dissuaded, or attempted to prevent or dissuade,
- 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.