What Counts as Witness Intimidation?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 25, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What is witness intimidation? TV shows and movies are chock full of hard-boiled detectives who put the squeeze on a local informant to get information. But criminal witness intimidation is typically much less glamorous.

Here are some key examples of what is and isn't witness intimidation:

Dissuading a Witness from Testifying

Intimidating a witness can work in many criminals' favor, but one of its most pernicious effects is to keep key witnesses from testifying in criminal court.

State laws vary on the punishment for the offense. For example, in California, dissuading a witnesses occurs when someone:

  • Attempts to dissuade a witness from testifying at a trial or other proceeding, or
  • Attempts to prevent a victim or witness from making a complaint or police report.

In one notable example, "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis was found guilty of dissuading a witness after he lured several women to his apartment, trapped them there, and then attacked one to convince her that filing a police report was a bad idea.

Narrowing Down Intimidation

Witness intimidation doesn't necessarily need to be accompanied by force; victims of witness intimidation have been harassed on Facebook by culprits using threatening words about "rats" and testifying.

There are also many crimes which have the effect of intimidating someone from testifying (e.g., repeat domestic violence offenses), but these acts are not necessarily criminal witness intimidation.

According to the Department of Justice, the key difference between witness intimidation and other crimes is that the perpetrator has the intent "to discourage the victim from reporting a crime to police or cooperating with prosecutors."

Intimidating a witness requires the offender to have the specific intent to coerce the witness or victim not to testify or report. Without that intent, there is no criminal intimidation.

Consider this: A particularly scary mugger would not be charged with intimidating a witness merely for making the victim apprehensive of reporting the crime; the mugger would need to have the intent to dissuade his victim from reporting the crime.

If you feel you have been intimidated or otherwise coerced into not reporting or testifying to a crime, you may consider reporting a crime anonymously or seeking protection from the police.

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