The evidence in a case demonstrates whether a crime has been committed, serves to keep criminals off the streets, and helps bring closure to victims and family members. Therefore, when evidence tampering occurs, it can result in a severe miscarriage of justice. A guilty party may go free or an innocent party could go to prison for something he/she did not do. When discovered or suspected, tampering with evidence may warrant its own, separate charges. Hiring a private investigator can help uncover cases of evidence tampering.
What is Evidence?
Any record, object, or document useful to a criminal inquiry or investigation is evidence. This includes tangible objects, such as drugs, weapons, and clothing. It also includes records that exist only in digital form, which may include documents, videos, photographs, etc.
Not all evidence is admissible in court. There are rules that govern what the prosecution can or cannot introduce as evidence during a criminal trial. For example, evidence that was obtained by illegal means cannot be admitted.
What Is Tampering With Evidence?
Tampering with evidence can take one of two forms. It can involve concealing, removing, destroying or changing something to preclude its use during a trial. It can also involve using, producing or presenting evidence that one knows to be false in the interest of misleading those involved in the investigation and legal proceedings.
Evidence tampering is usually carried out in the hopes of avoiding legal consequences by either concealing the fact that a crime has taken place, obscuring one’s role in it, or trying to frame someone else for the offense.
Knowledge and intent are necessary to prove a charge of tampering. If an accident or neglect destroys or alters evidence, that does not necessarily constitute tampering. However, it may carry its own consequences. Similarly, if you destroy evidence without knowledge of its significance, the law would probably not regard that as tampering.
For example, if an office worker destroyed financial records as a routine job task without knowing that they might be significant to an investigation into possible fraud, that would not be tampering. However, flushing drugs down the toilet with the police at the door would likely incur a tampering charge.
Who Could Commit Evidence Tampering?
Ordinary citizens may tamper with evidence to avoid investigation and/or prosecution for a crime. This may be what you think of when you hear about tampering because of its frequent depiction in popular forms of fictional entertainment.
Unfortunately, however, it is fairly common for law enforcement officers to tamper with evidence. This can take many forms. It may involve planting an object or material, such as drugs or weapons, at the scene during an investigation. This can incriminate someone who may not have been involved in the suspected crime. It can also involve altering or destroying evidence, such as body cam or dash cam footage, that demonstrates misconduct by law enforcement officers. A more complex situation occurs when the footage comes not from law enforcement devices but civilian observers, and the officers confiscate the video or photographs by force.
Sometimes prosecutors and law enforcement officers have the same objective of obtaining a conviction, by any means necessary. When this happens, they will sometimes work together to falsify or alter the evidence toward that end.
Who Does Evidence Tampering Hurt?
Someone tampering with evidence can negatively affect many people. Examples include the following:
- An Innocent Person Wrongly Convicted: Because of someone else’s efforts to incriminate you, you could serve prison time for a crime you didn’t commit.
- Crime Victims and Family Members: If you or a loved one suffered as a result of a crime, tampering could prevent you from seeing justice prevail and gaining closure.
- The General Public: If a guilty party goes free because of tampering, he or she could commit similar crimes in the future, posing a threat to the public.
- The Criminal Justice System: When law enforcement and/or prosecutors commit tampering, it undermines the public faith in the system, making it more difficult for honest officials to do their jobs effectively.
What Are the Consequences of Evidence Tampering?
Tampering is a separate charge from obstruction of justice. However, since tampering often tries to change the proceeding’s outcome, charges of tampering and obstruction often go together.
Depending on the seriousness of the case and other factors, a tampering charge can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. A person charged and convicted of tampering may go to prison for up to 20 years for a felony charge. However, a misdemeanor may result in as little as one year. The court may also impose fines that could amount to thousands of dollars.