A Steelton, Pennsylvania man was indicted for retaliating against a witness who had testified against two defendants in a federal drug trafficking case in which he was not otherwise involved. The man reportedly fired three shots at the witness, hitting him once in the leg. After the man was arrested by local police for the shooting and released on bail, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for, among other counts, retaliating against a witness.
Getting Involved in Someone Else's Criminal Case Can Lead to Trouble
Aside from the obvious – don't shoot witnesses involved in other people's criminal cases – this situation offers a slightly subtler lesson. If you know someone who is a witness in any kind of criminal case, be careful about how you interact with that person. This is doubly true if the criminal case is your own.
Witness Tampering Is a Federal Crime
Federal law prohibits a wide range of actions directed at witnesses, victims, and informants who are involved in both federal and state criminal cases, as well as in other “official proceedings.” It is, of course, illegal to use violence or threats of violence to influence a witness, but the law also prohibits intimidating witnesses in other ways or misleading them with the intent to influence how they testify or otherwise encouraging them to be less cooperative with any official proceeding, including criminal trials.
While the acts that make up tampering have to be done with the intent to affect the witnesses' participation in the case or other official proceeding, intent can often be inferred simply from those acts. This is where you need to be careful; a casual and innocent conversation with someone who is a witness where you bring up, for example, the devastating effect a conviction could have on the defendant's life and family could be construed by a zealous prosecutor as an attempt to convince the witness not to testify or cooperate with authorities in the case.
That said, one defense to a charge of witness tampering is that your “sole intent” was to encourage the witness to testify truthfully.
The situation can be even more treacherous if you are a defendant in a criminal case and friends or family members have been called to testify against you. In that case, you need to be extremely careful about how you interact with those people. Being able to rely on the advice of attorney Joseph D. Lento, who has experience in federal and state criminal matters, can help you navigate what can be a very uncomfortable and potentially legally treacherous situation.
Witness Retaliation Is Also a Federal Crime
Separate and apart from witness tampering is the federal crime of witness retaliation. This applies when the attempt to influence a witness goes beyond efforts to change future testimony and instead involves retribution for past testimony. The statute covers killing and attempting to kill the witness, injuring the witness, and damaging the witness's property. Penalties range from 20 to 30 years for acts short of murder and up to life in prison if the witness is killed.
Contact Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for Advice
If you find yourself accused of any crime, including witness tampering or witness retaliation, you should seek the advice of an attorney with years of experience in federal and state courts in Pennsylvania who can help you understand your situation and mount a vigorous and effective defense to the charges against you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have that expertise and can be your advocates during this difficult time. Call (888) 535-3686 today, or reach out to attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm online to learn more about how they can help.