Witnesses and witness testimony are critical components of the California criminal justice system. Many criminal cases rely a great deal on the information and testimony provided by witnesses, and any attempt to prevent or hinder the judicial process, law enforcement, correctional actions or the administration of the courts by intimidating a witness is considered a criminal offense. Under California law, for instance, it is illegal for a person to threaten a witness or victim using verbal or physical intimidation, with the intent to prevent the witness or victim from reporting a crime to the police, providing testimony at trial or performing any other civic duty with regard to the criminal justice system. If you have been accused of preventing a witness from testifying in Los Angeles, you need a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and defend you against these charges. Call our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys today at (213) 205-3100.
Affordable Witness Intimidation Attorney
There are many different scenarios that could result in witness intimidation charges being filed in California. If, for example, the defendant in an upcoming criminal trial sends an article about a witness in another criminal case being murdered to a man who is supposed to testify against him, the defendant could be charged with intimidating a witness. There are also situations in which a person’s attempt to discourage or dissuade a witness or victim does not constitute a criminal offense, especially if the person doesn’t act with the requisite intent to maliciously interfere. Some people are wrongfully accused of criminal threats or witness intimidation based on false evidence or a simple misunderstanding, and these people may be wrongfully convicted of these crimes if they are not represented by an attorney who specializes in witness intimidation defense. Our lawyers at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles are committed to pursuing a reduction in or dismissal of your criminal charges and will thoroughly investigate all evidence to identify weak points in the prosecution’s case and gain the leverage necessary to build a strong and aggressive defense.
Witness intimidation is a criminal offense covered under California Penal Code § 136.1 PC, which makes it a crime to knowingly and maliciously prevent or attempt to prevent a witness or victim from reporting a crime to the police, assisting police during an investigation, cooperating with the prosecution of a crime, or appearing at or providing testimony during a legal court proceeding. Under California law, a “witness” is anyone who has been the victim of a crime, has information about a crime, or can offer helpful testimony in a criminal case. It is important to note that witness intimidation can be charged in Los Angeles even if the attempt to prevent a witness from testifying is unsuccessful. In other words, whether the witness is able to provide the testimony or not makes no difference in the eyes of the law; the attempt alone is enough for a witness intimidation charge to be filed.
Accusations of witness intimidation sometimes occur in connection with California domestic violence cases, often as a result of the alleged abuser trying to prevent the alleged victim from reporting the abuse to the police or testifying at trial. There are no requirements under Penal Code § 136.1 PC that the witness or victim suffer physical injury as a result of your actions; you can face witness intimidation charges in Los Angeles if you:
- Restrain the witness or victim;
- Threaten the safety of the witness or victim;
- Threaten imminent bodily harm to the witness or victim; or
- Subject the witness or victim to emotional or psychological abuse or threats of abuse.
Bribery by or of a witness is a separate but related crime covered under Penal Code § 137 and 138 PC, and you can be charged with – and convicted of – this offense in Los Angeles if you give, offer or promise to give a witness money or something of value with the intent to influence his or her testimony. Other crimes related to witness intimidation include extortion (Penal Code § 518 PC), which involves the act of using fraud, force or threats of force to convince a witness to withhold information regarding a crime or give false testimony at trial, and criminal threats (Penal Code § 422 PC), which involves threatening to kill or injure a person with the intent to make that person fear for his or her safety.
Conviction for Witness Intimidation Penal Code § 136.1
Intimidating a witness is a serious crime in California and it’s one that is prosecuted aggressively. However, you should never assume being charged with witness intimidation automatically means you will be convicted of the crime. In order to get a witness intimidation conviction, the prosecutor assigned to your case must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the crime. This means establishing that you:
- Knowingly and maliciously
- Prevented or discouraged, or attempted to prevent or discourage
- A witness or victim from
- Reporting a crime to the police
- Assisting in the arrest process
- Assisting in the investigation or prosecution of a crime
- Appearing at or testifying during a legal proceeding
Penalties for a Witness Intimidation Conviction
The penalties associated with a witness intimidation conviction can vary from case to case, depending on the defendant’s criminal record, the presence of a firearm or weapon, the extent of harm suffered by the witness and any aggravating circumstances. The crime of witness intimidation is a “wobbler” in Los Angeles, which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the circumstances of the case. As a misdemeanor crime, California witness intimidation carries a potential punishment of up to one year in county jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. The existence of any aggravating factors automatically elevates Los Angeles witness intimidation to a felony offense, which may include using force or threats of force against the witness, being hired by someone else to intimidate the witness, having been convicted of witness intimidation in the past, or acting to further a larger criminal conspiracy.
As a felony offense, witness intimidation in Southern California is punishable by up to four years in state prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines. This sentence can be increased by as much as 10 years if you use a firearm while engaging in witness intimidation or act as part of a criminal gang. Furthermore, because witness intimidation is considered a serious felony, a conviction will result in a “strike” on the defendant’s criminal record pursuant to California’s “Three Strikes” sentencing law. This law imposes longer prison sentences for certain repeat offenders with prior convictions for serious or violent felonies and the accrual of three “strike” offenses can result in the defendant serving a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life in California state prison.
Defenses to Witness Intimidation Charges
Witness intimidation is a broad term that can include any number of behaviors that may be seen as dissuading or intimidating a witness or victim, and there are a variety of scenarios that can result in false accusations of witness intimidation. If you have been accused of the crime of witness intimidation in Southern California, you have the right to assert any argument that can excuse, explain or justify your alleged criminal behavior. Some helpful witness intimidation defenses a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney may be able to present on your behalf include the following:
- You were falsely accused
- You were the victim of an unlawful arrest
- The prosecution’s evidence is insufficient
- You didn’t know the person was a witness to or the victim of a crime
- You didn’t intend to prevent or discourage a witness from testifying or reporting a crime
- Your attempt to dissuade or discourage the witness or victim was not malicious (if you feared for his or her safety and did so out of a genuine concern for his or her well-being)
Hiring a Reputable Witness Intimidation Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
If you attempt to dissuade or discourage a witness from reporting a crime to the police or providing testimony at trial in California, you could face criminal charges of witness intimidation. Not only does a misdemeanor or felony witness intimidation conviction carry harsh criminal penalties, like jail time and significant fines, you will also end up with a criminal record, which can follow you for the rest of your life. If you or a loved one has been arrested for or charged with California witness intimidation, don’t hesitate to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent your case. It is important to act quickly to protect your rights and defend yourself against these criminal charges, to avoid lasting, life-changing consequences. Contact our knowledgeable defense team at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles as soon as possible and you will significantly improve your chances of reaching a favorable conclusion to your case.