18 U.S. Code § 1512 - Tampering with a Witness, Victim, or an Informant
Intimidation of a witness, victim, or informant is a form of obstruction of justice, and it's a federal crime defined under 18 U.S.C. 1512. Simply put, suppose you interfere with witness testimony or their cooperation. In that case, you could face federal criminal charges.
However, to be indicted for witness tampering, it must be proven that you deliberately attempted to alter or prevent their testimony. However, it's unnecessary to prove your actions were successful, only that the attempt was made.
Any person charged with violating 18 U.S. Code 1512 could be the defendant in the case or another person who attempted to interfere with the testimony of a witness on behalf of the defendant or prosecutor. Further, the “witness” might be the alleged victim or an informant.
Under this federal statute, there are comprehensive protections for witnesses, victims, and informants against obstructing justice by tampering with them.
18 U.S.C. 1512 addresses most methods of attempting to frustrate the administration of justice, such as interfering with their ability to report crimes to investigators, providing testimony, or participating in non-judicial proceedings such as Congressional inquiries.
The federal government can seek prosecution for witness tampering in the United States territory or abroad. Let's review this federal law further below.
What Type of Conduct is Prohibited?
When Congress decided to amend 18 U.S. Code 1512, they added a lot of conduct that could be considered “obstructive.” For example, they did so by expanding the definition of an informant.
Now, an informant is anyone with relevant information about a violation of a:
- bail order,
- parole condition, or
- probation condition.
This means protected Informants protected now include anyone who wishes to provide information not just to federal law enforcement agents, but also to federal judges or pretrial services officers. 18 U.S. Code 1512 prohibits the following type of behavior against witnesses, victims, or informants:
- use of force,
- threats, or
Bribery could be a separate offense under another statute. It occurs when a perpetrator intentionally attempts to dissuade or prevent a witness, victim, or informant from providing information by giving them some form of compensation.
Federal prosecutors can also use 18 U.S.C. 1512 in a situation where an alleged perpetrator threatens to kill a witness if they testify in a court proceeding or intimidate a co-worker from giving documents to a Congressional committee investigating someone's business conduct.
What Are Some Examples?
- Offering or giving a bribe to a witness or victim;
- Threatening family members with harm or property damage;
- Actual physical violence against a witness;
- Attempted violence to cause an injury or death to a witness;
- Asking a witness not to testify in a certain way in court;
- Asking a witness to lie or not cooperate with law enforcement;
- Prevent a witness from attending any legal proceedings.
Notably, the “attempt” of any related acts of witness intimidation punished the same as if the offenses were successful. Most cases of using threats or force against a witness to obstruct justice are unsuccessful.
What Are the Related Federal Crimes?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 73 Obstruction of Justice has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C 1512 tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant, as follows:
- 18 U.S.C. 1501 – Assault on process server;
- 18 U.S.C. 1502 – Resistance to extradition agent;
- 18 U.S.C. 1503 – Influencing or injuring officer or juror generally;
- 18 U.S.C. 1504 – Influencing juror by writing;
- 18 U.S.C. 1505 – Obstruction of proceedings before departments;
- 18 U.S.C. 1506 – Theft or alteration of record or process; false bail;
- 18 U.S.C. 1507 – Picketing or parading;
- 18 U.S.C. 1508 – Recording and listening to grand jury proceedings;
- 18 U.S.C. 1509 – Obstruction of court orders;
- 18 U.S.C. 1510 – Obstruction of criminal investigations;
- 18 U.S.C. 1511 – Obstruction of state or local law enforcement;
- 18 U.S.C. 1513 – Retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant;
- 18 U.S.C. 1514 – Civil action to restrain harassment of a victim or witness;
- 18 U.S.C. 1514A – Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases;
- 18 U.S.C. 1515 – Definitions for certain provisions; general provision;
- 18 U.S.C. 1516 – Obstruction of a federal audit;
- 18 U.S.C. 1517 – Obstructing examination of a financial institution;
- 18 U.S.C. 1518 – Obstruction of investigations of health care offenses;
- 18 U.S.C. 1519 – Destruction of records in federal investigations;
- 18 U.S.C. 1520 – Destruction of corporate audit records;
- 18 U.S.C. 1521 – Retaliating against a federal judge or law enforcement officer by false claim or slander of title.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S. C. 1512?
The severity of the offense will impact the potential penalties under the federal sentencing guidelines. In other words, the punishments are typically proportionate to the level of obstructive efforts by the defendant.
Suppose you are convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1512 witness intimidation. In that case, the penalties will include the following:
- Intentional harassment of a witness, victim, or informant, resulting in them being hindered, dissuaded, delayed, or prevented from testifying, carries a maximum punishment of three years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
- Threats of physical force intended to tamper with a witness carry a maximum punishment of 20 years in federal prison.
- Intimidation, threats, or corrupt persuasion against a witness also carries a maximum punishment of 20 years imprisonment.
- Use of physical force or attempts to kill the witness, victim, or informant to prevent their disclosure to law enforcement or court carries up to 30 years in federal prison and a hefty fine;
- If the defendant kills the witness to obstruct justice, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
Defenses for Witness Tampering
18 U.S. Code 1512 has specific affirmative defenses that can be used by a federal criminal defense lawyer, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that the communication exchange was lawful and that there were no threats. Maybe you were encouraging truthful testimony but never intended to tamper with them.
If the prosecutor cannot prove all the elements of the crime, you can likely avoid a conviction under this statute. Perhaps we can argue there was no harassing conduct, phone calls, or letters directed at someone involved in a criminal investigation or judicial proceeding.
Maybe we can argue that you are trying to convince the witness or victim to participate in the court process. Perhaps we can say that while your conduct may have been annoying, it never rose to the level of violating federal laws.
If you or a family member is under investigation or indicted for violating 18 U.S. Code 1512, contact us to review the case details and legal options.
We will work to protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case. We offer a free case evaluation by phone or using the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.