Witness tampering is the act of attempting to alter or prevent the testimony of witnesses within criminal or civil proceedings. Laws regarding witness tampering also apply to proceedings before Congress, executive departments, and administrative agencies. To be charged with witness tampering in the United States, the attempt to alter or prevent testimony is sufficient. There is no requirement that the intended obstruction of justice be completed.
In situations where intimidation or retaliation against witnesses is likely (such as cases involving organized crime), witnesses may be placed in witness protection to prevent suspects or their colleagues intimidating them.
In the United Kingdom, witness intimidation is covered by Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 51. Under this act it is an offence to perform an act which is intended to and does intimidate a person who the offender knows or believes to be involved with a criminal case with the intention of disturbing the proceedings.
Witness tampering in the USA
In the United States, the crime of witness tampering in federal cases is defined by statute at 18 U.S.C. § 1512, "Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant". The punishment for such an offense is up to 20 years if physical force was used or attempted, and up to 10 years if physical force was only threatened. The tampering need not have actually been successful in order for it to be criminal.
One of the better known cases involving section 1512 is Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2005. The Supreme Court ruled that section 1512 had been misinterpreted by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and reversed the decision of the lower court which had found the firm guilty of violating the section. The issue had, to some extent, become moot, because in 2002 the firm had all but dissolved as a result of prosecution on this criminal charge.
Witness tampering in England and Wales
In England and Wales, witness tampering by unlawful means, such as violence, bribery, threats or improper pressure, is known as Perverting the course of justice.
Section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 includes the offences of intimidating a witness and taking revenge on a witness.
Witness tampering by prosecutors
A current source of controversy is the lack of penalties for prosecutors who commit witness tampering or other forms of prosecutorial misconduct. In the United States, prosecutors have full immunity from civil liability regardless of how egregious their actions may be. Prosecutors do not have criminal immunity and can be professionally censured, but studies demonstrate that this rarely happens.
In March 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against a man named Shareef Cousin, who filed a lawsuit against New Orleans prosecutors after he was wrongfully convicted of the 1995 murder of Michael Gerardi. A number of examples of witness tampering during the trial were uncovered. In court, a friend of Cousin's who was expected to testify for the prosecution that Cousin had confessed to him. Instead, he told jurors that he had been promised leniency in his own trial if he would falsely implicate Cousin for the murder. An eyewitness testified that she saw Cousin commit the murder. Her original statement to police indicated that she had very poor vision and could not identify the killer. Her statements regarding her vision were not disclosed to the defense. Cousin also accused the state of illegally detaining many of his witnesses to prevent them from testifying in his defense.
- Death threat
- Jury tampering
- Organized crime
- Photography is Not a Crime
- Stop Snitchin'
- United States Federal Witness Protection Program
- Witness Security Programme (Ireland)
- "1729 Protection of Government Processes—Tampering with Victims, Witnesses, or Informants—18 U.S.C. § 1512". Justice.gov. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
- "Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994". legislation.gov.uk.
- Jones, Leigh (October 5, 2010). "Prosecutorial Misconduct Is Rarely Punished, Says New Study". The National Law Journal.
- "The Untouchables: America's Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them". The Huffington Post.