How Threatening a Witness Can Land You in Serious Trouble in Florida
If you are facing criminal charges in Florida, one of the worst things you can do is attempt to intimidate or threaten a potential witness in your case. Witness tampering is itself a serious felony under both federal and Florida state law. And even if you are not the direct target of a criminal proceeding, you can still face tampering charges if prosecutors believe that you are trying to interfere with their case in any way.
Tampa Man Sentenced to More Than 8 Years in Prison After Threatening to Kill Girlfriend from Jail
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals offers a cautionary tale. In United States v. Beach, federal prosecutors charged a Tampa defendant with threatening to kill his girlfriend, who was a key witness in an ongoing drug crimes case. The underlying case involved a heroin addict named Dykes, who died of an overdose in 2017. Prosecutors believed a reputed local drug dealer named Smith provided the drugs that killed Dykes.
Hillsborough County law enforcement identified a potential witness, who was the defendant’s girlfriend. She agreed to help detectives conduct a “controlled drug buy” from Smith so that the police could arrest him. At the time, the defendant was in jail awaiting trial on a trespassing charge.
The defendant regularly spoke to his girlfriend from jail. As these conversations were not privileged, they were recorded by jail officials. On one of these calls, the girlfriend told the defendant she had spoken that day with the U.S. Attorney’s office about testifying in Smith’s potential trial once the controlled buy was completed. The defendant then told the girlfriend that he would have access to a gun once he made bail on his trespassing charge and that if she went through with her plans to testify, he would kill her.
The girlfriend decided not to go through with the controlled buy. The police still managed to arrest Smith several weeks later. He was tried and convicted of multiple charges in a separate proceeding.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury indicted the defendant for witness tampering. After a one-day trial, the jury found him guilty. The trial court sentenced the defendant to more than 8 years in prison.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the government had failed to prove the essential elements of witness tampering. Specifically, he said that his threat against his girlfriend was meant to discourage her to not go through with the controlled buy, which was not an “official proceeding,” as required by the federal witness tampering statute.
The 11th Circuit rejected that argument and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The appellate court explained that the jury could have reasonably concluded that the defendant’s threat was made in anticipation of a likely grand jury proceeding or trial against Smith. Even if such proceedings were not “imminent,” the fact the defendant could have “foreseen” them was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.
Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today
It is critical to remember that when you are speaking to someone–other than your attorney–while in jail, your conversations are subject to recording and can be used against you in court. That is why your best move when facing any serious charge is to keep your mouth shut and work with a qualified Orlando drug crimes lawyer who can advise you of your rights. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, P.A., today to schedule a free consultation.