If someone is involved as a witness in a criminal trial against you or someone you know, they may have made untruthful remarks, or you may be worried that they are going to say something that will hurt the defendant's chances. Even a simple question or warning to the witness to be careful what they say may be taken as intimidation of the witness, and you may end up be charged with a criminal offense.
Witness intimidation does not have to involve a person threatening to kill the witness if they say something in court, it could encompass all types of activities. In some cases, such as domestic dispute charges, contacting the other party to try and work things out may lead to a criminal charge for intimidation. Before contacting the police or the other party, you may be best served by contacting an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer who can advise you on the possible pitfalls of trying to handle the matter on your own, when possible jail time is at stake.
Intimidation of a Witness or Juror
Whoever directly or indirectly, willfully threatens, attempts or causes physical, emotional, economic injury or property damage a witness or potential witness may be imprisoned for up to 10 years in prison and fined up to $10,000. The witness could be involved in any stage of the criminal proceeding, grand jury, trial or other criminal proceeding.
If wilful threats are alleged, intent can be decided based on the defendant's actions and words, and the surrounding circumstances to determine intent. Even if the defendant did not willfully obstruct the proceeding, they may be charged if they acted in reckless disregard of the impact of their conduct.
This also applies to anyone who misleads, intimidates or harasses a witness. It also applies if the person is offering a benefit to the witness, such as enticing them with a gift, offer or promise of anything of value. The intentional impediment, delay, obstruction, or interference of a civil or criminal proceeding is similarly included under these laws.
In addition to witnesses and jurors, this law also protects intimidation of a judge, prosecutor, police officer, federal agent, investigator, defense attorney, clerk, court officer, probation officer or parole officer. It also includes a person aware of information, records, documents or objects related to violation of a criminal statute or probation violation.
What is Harassment?
As applied to witness intimidation, harassment means engaging in any act directed at the witness which seriously alarms or annoys the witness and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. This includes acts conducted through the mail, email, telephone, text, fax, social media posting or instant messenger.
It does not matter if the witness was not actually intimidated. The attempt to intimidate a witness is sufficient to be charged with the offense.
Federal Witness Tampering
In a federal proceeding or criminal case, tampering with or intimidating a witness may result in federal witness tampering charges. Attempting to murder or use force against a person to influence, delay or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding, or inducing a person to withhold testimony, destroy or conceal an object, or evade legal process summoning shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 30 years. Threatening the use of physical force is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Intentionally harassing another person which hinders, prevents, or dissuades any person from attending or testifying in an official proceeding; reporting to a law enforcement officer; arresting or seeking the arrest of a person in connection with a federal offense, or even attempting to do so can be punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
Witness Intimidation Defense
There are many available defenses to charges of witness intimidation, dissuading a witness, or witness tampering. In many cases, there is a question of who contacted the witness, and whether the police and prosecutors have evidence that the alleged intimidator is the person who contacted the witness. In other cases, a witness may have fabricated the threats alleged. Additionally, to be found guilty, the defendant has to have the required intent to obstruct a court proceeding.
If you or a loved one have been accused of intimidating a witness or threatening a juror, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who understands the seriousness of these charges. Your Boston-area defense attorney will conduct an in-depth investigation into your case, review all available records, and develop a legal defense strategy based on your best defenses, to get your charges dismissed or reduced.