How to Defend Against Tampering With Evidence
Human beings have a natural instinct to defend themselves, but it can take many different forms. If you’re charged with a crime – or caught in the act doing something illegal – it can be tempting to get rid of the proof, mislead detectives, and influence witnesses to avoid the consequences. But all of these actions are forms of tampering with evidence. And they’re all very serious crimes in Oklahoma.
Types of Tampering With Evidence in Oklahoma
Tampering with evidence falls under the umbrella of “obstruction of justice” in Oklahoma, which includes several different charges.
Standard Tampering With Evidence
The traditional meaning of tampering can involve either presenting false evidence or destroying existing evidence in order to affect the outcome of a criminal investigation or trial. According to Oklahoma Statutes Title 21, Section 451: “Any person who, upon any trial, proceedings, inquiry or investigation whatever, authorized by law, offers in evidence as genuine, any book, paper, document, record, or other instrument in writing, knowing the same to have been forged, or fraudulently altered, shall be guilty of a felony.”
Title 21, Section 454 spells out the rules for destroying evidence: “Every person who knowing that any book, paper, record, instrument in writing, or other matter or thing, is about to be produced in evidence upon any trial, proceeding, inquiry or investigation whatever, authorized by law, willfully destroys the same, with intent thereby to prevent the same from being produced, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
So what is evidence? Oklahoma law spells that out too: Physical evidence is items, including contraband, that tend to prove or disprove that a crime, rule, or condition violation has been committed. Common examples of tampering with evidence include:
- Flushing or throwing away drugs and contraband
- Shredding or burning documents
- Disposing of a weapon or other implement used in a crime
- Creating a fake document, like a contract or will
- Falsifying records
The punishment for tampering with evidence is based on the crime and its severity. In Oklahoma, destroying evidence is a misdemeanor and you could serve up to one year in jail. Presenting false evidence is a felony with up to three years in jail or on probation.
Tampering with a witness through intimidation is a very serious crime. Oklahoma Statutes Title 21, Section 21 states: “Every person who willfully prevents or attempts to prevent any person from giving testimony or producing any record, document or other object … or threatens or procures physical or mental harm through force or fear with the intent to prevent any witness from appearing in court to give his or her testimony or produce any record, document or other object, or to alter his or her testimony is, upon conviction, guilty of a felony.”
In short, witness tampering includes things like:
- Asking a potential witness to disobey a subpoena (an order to appear in court)
- Convincing a witness to lie or change their testimony
- Interfering with a witness’s ability to report a crime or testify
- Offering a bribe
Witness tampering can be physical or emotional, including making direct threats, damaging property, and harassment. It’s a felony in Oklahoma and can get you up to ten years in prison.
Tampering with Security Equipment
Because tampering with security equipment is a pre-emptive act, meaning that you usually do it in order to prevent evidence from being collected, it has its own charge in Oklahoma. According to Title 21, Section 1993, there are several levels to this type of tampering with evidence, depending on the intent behind it:
- Simple tampering: “It’s illegal for any unauthorized person to refocus, reposition, cover, manipulate, disconnect, or otherwise tamper with or disable a security or surveillance camera or security system.” This is a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $5,000.
- Tampering in the commission of a misdemeanor: If you tamper with equipment as described above “for the purpose of avoiding detection when committing, attempting to commit, or aiding another person to commit or attempt to commit any misdemeanor,” it’s punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
- Tampering in the commission of a felony: Tampering with security equipment “for the purpose of avoiding detection when committing, attempting to commit, or aiding another person to commit or attempt to commit any felony” is itself a felony. You could get up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Obstructing an Officer
Preventing an officer from doing his or her job is a crime in Oklahoma. Title 21, Section 540 states: “Any person who willfully delays or obstructs any public officer in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office, is guilty of a misdemeanor. Nothing in this section shall preclude a person from recording the activity of law enforcement in a public area, as long as the recording activity does not delay or obstruct the law enforcement agent in his or her duties.”
It’s important to note that recording an officer is not automatically obstructing them, as long as you’re not interfering with their duties. Here are a few examples of what does count as obstructing an officer:
- Interrupting a witness interview
- Speaking to a witness or an arrested individual when instructed not to
- Preventing officers from accessing a crime scene
- Attempting to flee or resisting arrest
- Distracting officers from doing their jobs
Obstructing an officer is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $500 fine.
How to Defend Against Tampering With Evidence Charges
If you’ve been charged with tampering with evidence, it’s important to know that the prosecution must prove several elements of their case against you. They need to prove that:
- You willfully tampered with the evidence, meaning that you did it on purpose
- You knew the evidence was going to presented at trial or used in an investigation
- You intended to prevent it from being produced or intended to mislead investigators
To prove this charge, the state must prove that you knew you were tampering with evidence that was incriminating. That opens the door for you to plead not guilty for several reasons:
This defense speaks to the first element the state must prove: That you purposely destroyed evidence. Some examples of accidental destruction might be an unintentional house fire that destroys documents, your assistant accidentally shredding and disposing of something important, or your security camera automatically recording over important footage.
Lack of Knowledge
This defense is related to the second element: The state must prove that you knew that you were tampering with evidence that was important to their case. For example, if a husband takes out the trash, but doesn’t know that there is evidence of his wife’s crimes in that trash, he has a lack of knowledge about the evidence.
Lack of Intent
This defense also relates to the second element: That you knew the evidence destroyed was going to be used in an investigation against you. For example, if you deleted emails that could have been used as evidence, but you didn’t know you were being investigated, the state will have trouble proving intent – because you can’t interfere with an investigation you didn’t know about. You can also use this defense if you didn’t destroy the evidence voluntarily.
Mistake of Fact
This defense is like lack of knowledge and lack of intent, but it means that you didn’t believe you were tampering with evidence that was important. So, if you knowingly throw away an old cell phone, but you did it because you just didn’t need it anymore, and not with the intent to interfere, you could be found innocent.
The Bottom Line
Tampering with evidence is a serious crime in Oklahoma, especially if you try to influence a witness or produce false evidence. But this crime has a high burden of proof, and it’s up to the state to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew you were being investigated, knew the evidence was important, and purposely tampered with it. An experienced defense attorney can help you fight this charge and any others that come along with it. Contact the Khalaf law firm today to start forming your defense.