When Ezell Finklea was gunned down while returning from a fast food pick-up, it was on the eve of providing testimony in a murder trial. Finklea had been intimidated prior to the ambush with a home break-in, and had also been offered bribes to silence him, but Finklea was committed to testifying. His murder was an example of the most extreme form of witness tampering. However, behavior does not have to be this excessive in order to qualify as witness tampering which is a crime in Florida.
What Constitutes Witness Tampering?
Florida Statute 914.22 addresses witness tampering. It is defined as any incidents wherein someone attempts, or actually carries out the following in order to silence a witness, informant, official, or victim:
- Intimidate or harass;
- Offer money or benefits.
For the record, witness tampering may be charged whether or not an official proceeding is scheduled, and even if the information to be garnered from the witness or informant is not admissible in court. Additionally, the prosecution is not required to prove the alleged offender’s state of mind. In fact, just the simple act of planning to alter another person’s testimony could result in charges.
What Might a Witness be Expected to do?
Witness tampering generally occurs with the intent of foiling the prosecution’s case. It may result in witnesses deliberately doing the following:
- Failing to testify truthfully, or at all, to known facts;
- Destroying evidence;
- Attempting to obstruct the legal process by evading law enforcement;
- Avoiding proceedings for which one has been subpoenaed;
- Changing one’s testimony in an untruthful way or attempting to hinder the court from discovering relevant information.
Florida Penalties for Witness Tampering
The consequences of witness tampering depend on the crime that is being covered up. It can be a misdemeanor or felony with varying punishments ranging from probation to incarceration.
Federal Penalties for Witness Tampering
Federal law defines witness tampering in essentially the same way as the state and it can carry varying prison sentences depending on the situation. These same penalties apply to individuals who conspire to commit such a crime as well as those who actually carry out the intimidation or bribery.
Defending Against Charges
Various issues need to be investigated when faced with such charges. These include the following:
- Is there evidence to support the claim of witness tampering or is it just a he-said-she-said situation?
- Were emotional discussions or pleadings misinterpreted?
- Did you lawfully respond to actions taken against you rather than attempt to alter someone’s testimony?
These and other lines of inquiry need to be investigated and reviewed. Contact criminal defense attorney Deric Zacca at his Fort Lauderdale office today to schedule a confidential consultation regarding your particular situation.