Witnesses are important in criminal proceedings and investigations. Without them, it would be more difficult for the court to determine the real facts behind a case or whether someone is guilty of committing a crime. Because witnesses’ testimonies are crucial, the law punishes anyone who tries, in any way, to convince a witness to lie in court. Tampering with witnesses is a serious crime in New Jersey, and those who commit it can spend up to 20 years in prison.
Courts gather all valuable information about a criminal case to ensure the ruling is made according to the facts. However, their decision could be flawed if witnesses fail to appear at the trial or don’t tell the truth about what they saw, heard or know about the accused. Tampering with witnesses affects the justice system in New Jersey, which is why this crime is serious. The law considers that a person commits this crime when they cause a witness to:
- Testify or inform falsely
- Withhold any testimony, information or document
- Elude a legal process in which they have to testify or supply evidence
- Absent themselves from any proceeding or investigation
- Obstruct, delay, prevent or impede an official proceeding or investigation
Those who cause a witness to do any of those things commit a serious crime of the first or second degree. The penalties will depend on the crime being investigated and how the accused convinced the witness to withhold the truth.
Witnesses must take an oath to tell the truth in court. If they break the oath, they commit the crime of perjury. Witnesses usually don’t want to risk their freedom for someone else, which is why most people use force to silence them. Hurting or threatening to hurt a witness is a crime of the first degree if the force occurs in connection with an official proceeding involving a serious crime, such as murder or sexual assault. The court will sentence anyone convicted of a first-degree crime with 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000.
If the perpetrator uses force in connection to a lesser crime, their actions will constitute a second-degree crime. The court punishes second-degree crimes with a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The same will apply to those who use the power of money to convince a witness. Bribing a witness is also a second-degree crime. It has the same penalties as hurting or threatening to hurt the witness in connection to a lesser crime.
Avoiding the consequences
Tampering with a witness is not only unlawful, but it is also counterproductive as the accused could spend even more time in prison than if they hadn’t tried to hide the truth. However, sometimes witnesses misunderstand things and believe they were bribed or threatened when that wasn’t the accused’s intention. If this happened to you, you have the right to seek legal representation and prove your innocence to the court.