Is Tampering with Evidence a Serious Crime?

Have you been accused of tampering with evidence? The state will aggressively pursue criminal charges if it believes you have interfered with a criminal case. Tampering with evidence is a serious misdemeanor and carries incredibly harsh penalties.

Tampering With Evidence

State law makes it a crime to tamper with evidence in a criminal case. California Penal Code 141 PC explains that any person who “knowingly, willfully, intentionally, and wrongfully” tampers with evidence relevant to a trial, proceeding, or inquiry can be guilty of a misdemeanor. Evidence can include:

  • Physical matter
  • Digital images, and
  • Video recordings.

When you are charged with tampering with evidence the state will have to prove three things:

  1. You acted knowingly, willfully, intentionally, and wrongfully;
  2. You manipulated or planted evidence; and
  3. You acted with specific intent to cause one of two results.

Knowing, Willful Behavior

The state must prove that you intentionally planted or tampered with evidence, with the knowledge that what you were doing was wrong. As a result, you cannot be guilty of tampering with evidence under 141 PC if your actions are accidental or the result of force, duress, or fraud.

Manipulate or Plant Evidence

What does it mean to “tamper with” evidence? Under Penal Code 141 PC, any of the following behaviors can be considered unlawful tampering:

  • Altering
  • Modifying
  • Planting
  • Placing
  • Manufacturing
  • Concealing, or
  • Moving.

Any effort to manipulate evidence and a criminal case can be considered unlawful tampering.

Specific Intent

Tampering with evidence is a specific intent crime. This means that you must not only perform the unlawful act (i.e., tampering with evidence), but you must also perform that action with very specific intentions. In California, it is a crime to tamper with evidence with the specific intent that:

  1. The action will result in another person being charged with a crime; or
  2. The evidence will be “wrongfully produced as genuine or true” in a criminal case.

You cannot be guilty of tampering with evidence if you did not act with the intent to cause one of these specific outcomes.

Consequences of Tampering With Evidence

In most cases, tampering with evidence is a misdemeanor offense. Possible criminal penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in County jail;
  • Probation; and/or
  • $1,000 in fines.

If you are sentenced to probation you may have to complete community service, attend mandatory counseling, abstain from drug and alcohol use, and hold down a job. The specific penalties in your case will ultimately depend on your criminal record and the severity of the offense. 

Collateral Consequences

If you are convicted of tampering with evidence you will be burdened with a criminal record. This will have immediate and long-lasting consequences that touch on nearly every aspect of your life. Having a criminal record will make you vulnerable to collateral consequences. These are social and civil penalties that aren’t necessarily related to your specific crime. Instead, they exist because you have a record.

Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction for tampering with evidence can include:

  • Job loss
  • Inability to gain employment in healthcare, education, or the government
  • Loss of professional licenses
  • Difficulty finding a place to live
  • Loss of eligibility for government benefits
  • Adverse child custody consequences, and more.

It’s important to understand that a criminal conviction can affect you for the rest of your life. The best way to protect yourself and your future is to hire an experienced attorney to handle your criminal case.

Penalties for Police and Prosecutors

Tampering with evidence becomes a felony when police and/or prosecuting attorneys are involved. 

Police: Police can be guilty of tampering with evidence if they act with specific intent to result in:

  • A person being charged with a crime
  • The evidence being destroyed or concealed, or
  • The evidence being fraudulently misrepresented as original in a case.

Prosecutors: Prosecuting attorneys can be guilty of tampering with evidence if they intentionally act in bad faith to “alter, modify, or withhold” evidence “knowing that it is relevant and material to the outcome of the case.” 

Police officers and prosecuting attorneys convicted of tampering with evidence can face a maximum of 5 years in a California state prison and be required to pay up to $10,000 in fines.

Tampering With Evidence Defenses

You have the right to defend yourself when you are accused of tampering with evidence. The defenses you assert should help to explain or justify your alleged behaviors. Defense strategies can also be used to attack the validity of any evidence the state may use against you.

Defenses to allegations of tampering with evidence include:

  • Lack of required specific intent
  • Behavior was not willful, intentional, knowing, or wrong
  • Force, fraud, or duress
  • False accusation
  • Mistaken identity, and
  • Constitutional violations.

It’s important to make sure that you were not the victim of an illegal search, seizure, or arrest. The state can be prohibited from using evidence that is gathered in violation of your rights. Without this evidence, prosecutors may not have a strong case. As a result, they may be more inclined to offer a plea bargain or drop the charges.

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Los Angeles, CA 90025