Common mistakes to avoid after being criminally charged
Criminal cases are not the same as civil cases. The consequences of a conviction can affect the rest of your life.
If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, it’s critical that you do everything right. A criminal defense attorney can guide you through the process and help you avoid these and other common yet serious mistakes.
What is witness tampering?
The witness tampering statute is described, in part, as:
A person commits an offense if, believing that an official proceeding or investigation is pending or about to be instituted or has been instituted, he knowingly engages in conduct that a reasonable person would believe would cause a witness or informant to:
(1) Testify or inform falsely;
(2) Withhold any testimony, information, document or thing;
(3) Elude legal process summoning him to testify or supply evidence;
(4) Absent himself from any proceeding or investigation to which he has been legally summoned; or
(5) Otherwise obstruct, delay, prevent or impede an official proceeding or investigation.
N.J.S.A. 2C:28-5 (emphasis added)
What does this mean for you?
A person may be found guilty of witness tampering even if they did not intend to impede proceedings or investigation. The witness tampering statute uses an objective standard. Meaning that the jury would decide if it was reasonable to believe your conduct amounted to one of the five factors listed in the statute above.
The statute has come under scrutiny in the legal community, and its constitutionality has come into question. Opponents of the statute argue that the “reasonable person” part is too vague, especially in light of the objective view component of the state. You could genuinely conduct yourself in a manner that does not have the intent of causing any obstruction or delay and still be found guilty.
Where do we see a high potential for witness tampering?
In my practice, I see a high potential for witness tampering in domestic violence cases. Domestic violence cases involve individuals, usually in relationships, i.e., spouses or paramours. When someone is charged with a crime in New Jersey against their loved one, it is often an attempt to simply reach out to the other person.
The incident may have been isolated, and it may have been quick compared to the breadth of experience between you and your significant other. Unfortunately, that text message, letter, or call could not only be contempt but also witness tampering. Tugging on the heartstrings in the eyes of a juror may be viewed as a reasonable attempt to impede the witness’s testimony.
What is contempt?
At its core, contempt is acting in violation of a court order, per 2C:29-9:
A person is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if he purposely or knowingly disobeys a judicial order or protective order, pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1985, c.250 (C.2C:28-5.1), or hinders, obstructs or impedes the effectuation of a judicial order or the exercise of jurisdiction over any person, thing or controversy by a court, administrative body or investigative entity.
Where do we see a high potential for contempt?
A contempt charge can easily follow the release of an accused individual for a broad range of claims. Unlike the witness tampering example above, contempt is very straightforward. Either you violated the court order, or you didn’t. In most cases involving domestic violence crimes, a condition of pre-trial release is no contact with the victim. Contact with a victim may be through a third-party, indirect messages or other communication.
After being charged with a crime in New Jersey, staying away and out of contact with the victim is essential. You should speak with an attorney to learn how to interview potential witnesses, strategize and prepare for trial. If you or someone you know have questions about more mistakes to avoid, please contact A. Brown Esq. LLC., at 973-381-8339, to schedule a free initial consultation.