What Is Witness Tampering?

Witness tampering involves interference with the presentation of testimony or evidence in a federal proceeding, or with another person’s communications with federal law enforcement.  

Many different types of proceedings are covered by the witness tampering statute.  The statute applies not only to judicial proceedings, but also to proceedings before Congress (such as congressional hearings and investigations), proceedings before an executive department (such as the Treasury Department), and proceedings before an administrative agency (like the Securities and Exchange Commission).

To commit witness tampering, an individual must interfere with the proceeding through any one of the following means:

  • Use of physical force or the threat of physical force.
  • Intimidation, threats, or “corrupt” persuasion done with consciousness of wrongdoing.
  • Harassment that hinders, delays, prevents, or dissuades any person from testifying in a proceeding, reporting a crime, making an arrest, or initiating criminal prosecution.

No matter the specific means used, however, a person commits witness tampering only if she acted with a corrupt intent.  In other words, the person must engage in the conduct with intent to interfere with the proceeding.  A threat to reveal embarrassing information about a witness in an upcoming trial, for example, is witness tampering only if the person making the threat does so to influence, delay, or prevent that witness’s testimony.   

The penalties for witness tampering are severe – up to 20 years’ imprisonment in most cases.

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