Witness tampering, outlined by the U.S. Code, is loosely defined as perpetrating or threatening any action that would prevent or induce a material witness from providing prosecutors and law enforcement officials with information pertaining to a criminal investigation. California likewise defines witness tampering loosely but makes more critical stipulations with regard to ill-gotten gains and improper benefits---monetary or otherwise---given to witnesses to influence testimony.
United States Code: Title 18, 1512, clearly delineates the circumstances and punishment for tampering with a witness in a criminal investigation or trial. Committing murder to prevent testimony incurs the same punishment as first-degree murder in other situations. Attempted murder is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The use of physical force, short of attempted murder, results in a 20-year prison term; the threat of physical force brings a 10-year sentence.
California Interpretation of Bribes
References to witness tampering are more diffuse in California's penal code. For example, Section 132.5 of the California Penal Code states that witnesses receiving bribes to influence testimony, or persons offering bribes, are subject to a sentence of up to six months in a county jail and a fine of $1,000. The code stipulates that the statute of limitations for a bribery offense is one year from the date on which the offense occurred, unless prosecution already has begun.
California Interpretation of Force
Section 1335, Subsection D of the California Penal Code also addresses the use of physical force to influence testimony or sworn statements. The section deals in particular with cases of domestic violence in which the alleged victim can be influenced by the alleged perpetrator. The state does not recommend punishment for exerting physical force to influence testimony; rather, it simply states that the alleged defendant should be made aware of legal rights and may request a physical examination of the victim to confirm or contest the validity of the victim's claim.
California Witness Protection
In the most severe cases, especially those involving organized crime, the law generally acknowledges a higher possibility that a witness will be induced to refrain from testimony, either by threat of physical force or otherwise. Section 14020 of the California Penal Code establishes a witness protection and relocation program under the direction of the state attorney general with the cooperation of state and local law enforcement agencies. Priority goes to witnesses of particularly dangerous crimes and to those who otherwise would be unable to defend themselves.
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