Think back to when you were a child cartwheeling around the house, which inevitably led to breaking something important — a vase, picture frame, or worst of all, the family china set.
You probably did your best to cover up the damage and hide the broken item, maybe even bribing (or threatening) your partner in crime not to tell your parents.
No matter how good you were at covering your tracks, chances are your misdoings were quickly discovered by your parents. More importantly, your attempts to cover your tracks and bolster your alibi probably got you into more trouble than the original deed itself.
This common scenario is often repeated in adulthood. People make mistakes and instinctively try to cover up the damage or their involvement, only to find themselves in even more trouble.
Unfortunately, taking such actions to protect yourself from criminal charges — legally referred to as evidence tampering or witness intimidation — can carry dire repercussions. In some cases, you may be surprised to find that tampering with evidence can result in more severe legal penalties than the original crime.
While tampering with evidence is a serious criminal charge, the good news that an experienced criminal law attorney can help you fight the charge in court. The criminal charge is based on intentionally tampering with evidence, so if your attorney can effectively prove that you did not act with criminal intent, the charge may be dropped or dismissed.
What is considered tampering with evidence in Arizona?
Arizona’s criminal code addresses the topic of evidence tampering in ARS 13-2809. The statute presents three examples of tampering with physical evidence:
- Altering, concealing, mutilating, destroying, or removing physical evidence with the intent to impair its availability or verity.
- Knowingly offering, producing, or making false physical evidence.
- Preventing the production of physical evidence by an act of deception, intimidation, or force against any person.
Note that evidence tampering charges apply to any official proceeding, including current proceedings, pending cases, and even situations where the defendant knows a future proceeding is imminent.
What is the penalty for tampering with evidence in Arizona?
In Arizona, tampering with evidence is a class 6 felony. While this is the least serious felony under Arizona law, it still carries a maximum prison sentence of 1.5 years for first-time offenders, and up to 4.5 years for repeat offenders.
Arizona law also allows the judge to impose a fine of up to $150,000 for felony convictions (ARS 13-801).
How to Defend Yourself Against Evidence Tampering Charges in Arizona
The best legal defense against evidence tampering charges (outside of proving you’re genuinely innocent) is to prove that you did not act with criminal intent. In other words, you’ll need to convince the prosecutor or judge that you weren’t consciously trying to tamper with evidence when you took the actions in question.
For example, let’s say you’re being charged with a financial crime. In such a case, deleting case-related files from your computer and shredding important documents pertaining to the case could be considered tampering with evidence.
However, if you regularly shred financial documents and remove sensitive files from your computer — and, more importantly, you can prove that you do this with all of your clients — then you may be off the hook for evidence tampering. Yes, your actions directly impacted the case against you, but your actions were clearly part of an established, regular protocol.
In cases where you can’t get the evidence tampering charges against you dropped or dismissed, the better strategy may be to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charge. Fortunately, Arizona law allows class 6 felonies to be reduced to a class 1 misdemeanor under certain conditions (ARS 13-604).
FAQs about Tampering with Evidence in Arizona
Q: What are the consequences for tampering with evidence?
The consequences for tampering with evidence depend on whether the charge carries the standard class 6 felony designation or the reduced class 1 misdemeanor designation.
For class 6 felonies, the standard consequence is one year in prison — though that could be reduced to a minimum sentence of six months. For class 1 misdemeanors, the consequences can include up to six months in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
Of course, tampering with evidence can also have the unintended consequence of negatively impacting the criminal case against you. Evidence tampering often implies a presumption of guilt, which will weigh into the judge or jury’s final verdict against you.
Q: What does destruction of evidence mean?
Destruction of evidence refers to any effort to physically eliminate the evidence against you. This may include deleting files from a computer, wiping a computer hard drive, shredding documents, or burning physical evidence.
Q: What does spoliation of evidence mean?
Spoliation of evidence is a term that’s often used during the discovery phase of a trial. It doesn’t carry a criminal charge like evidence tampering, but it can have serious consequences and possibly result in sanctions against the defendant.
Broadly speaking, spoliation of evidence occurs when a document or piece of information is required for discovery (during the pre-trial phase of a case), and is destroyed or significantly altered before being turned over to the court. In determining whether a defendant has committed spoliation of evidence, the court will evaluate whether the defendant acted negligently or intentionally.
As is the case with evidence tampering, the best defense against spoliation of evidence charges is to prove that the defendant did not act with criminal intent. In this case, you’ll also have to prove that you didn’t act negligently or recklessly — meaning even if you didn’t know what you were doing was illegal, the court will assess whether the average person would have known that their actions were illegal.
What to Do if You are Charged with Tampering with Evidence in Arizona
Anytime you’re facing criminal charges in Arizona, it’s important to discuss your case with an experienced criminal law attorney as soon as possible. Remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, and you should immediately exercise these rights when you’re arrested.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.