Threatening a Witness
In California, a criminal defendant can be guilty of threatening a witness under Penal Code section 140. Cases have even held that there is no requirement that the defendant actually intended to cause fear to the victim or to even have any effect on the victim’s future testimony or participation in the case.
To prove that a defendant is guilty of threatening a witness after testimony or information is given, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:
- A witness or potential witness to a crime gave assistance or information to law enforcement or prosecutors in a criminal case;
- The defendant willfully used force or threatened to use force or violence against that witness because he or she had given that assistance or information; AND
- A reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would interpret the threat, in light of the context and surrounding circumstances, as a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful force or violence rather than just an expression of frustration.
Tony is going to trial on domestic violence charges. Two days prior to the beginning of the trial Tony tells his wife/complaining witness, “You better not testify if you know what’s good for you.” Tony’s wife then informs law enforcement about the “threat” that Tony made. Even though it may seem that the “threat” made to his wife is vague Tony can still be charged and convicted of threatening a witness. The reason why Tony may still be convicted of threatening a witness is because there is no requirement that the defendant actually intended to cause fear.
2. Related Offenses
Other similar or related offenses include:
- Intimidating a Witness or Victim – California Penal Code Section 136.1 PC
- Criminal Threats – California Penal Code Section 422 PC
- Bribery of a Witness Regarding Testimony – California Penal Code Section 137(a) PC
- Bribery of a Witness Regarding Trial Attendance – California Penal Code Section 138(a) PC
3. Defenses to Threatening a Witness
A person charged with threatening a witness may be the victim of a false allegations. The victim or witness may want to see the defendant get in trouble and may embellish or invent a conversation with that defendant.
Penalties for threatening a witness depend on whether the offense is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If the defendant is convicted of threatening a witness as a felony, they face anywhere from two to four years in state prison. If the defendant is convicted of threatening a witness as a misdemeanor, they face a maximum of one year in jail.
If a defendant is not a citizen, suffering a conviction for threatening a witness can result in severe immigration consequences including deportation. Under Federal law threatening a witness is in many cases an aggravated felony and a crime involving moral turpitude which can lead to a non-citizen’s deportation. Therefore, it is imperative that those charged with threatening a witness should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
5. Criminal Defense for Threatening a Witness cases
Being accused of threating a witness can lead to charges of very serious criminal offenses that can cause lifelong consequences for those convicted. As a result, if you or someone you know have been accused of threatening a witness, it is critical that you meet with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who has handled serious offenses of this nature as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. In certain circumstances, Mr. Kraut is able to intervene before charges have been filed in order to present a defense to the detective or filing prosecutor and avoid criminal filing altogether.
For more information about threatening a witness, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.