Have You Been Charged with Influencing Witnesses in Georgia?
One of the foundations of our criminal justice system is the standard of “innocent until proven guilty." Defendants are entitled to a fair trial in order to determine their innocence or guilt. Influencing witnesses is a crime that disrupts the fair trial requirement. There are a variety of ways a person can affect a witness in Georgia. The consequences are severe if convicted of this crime. It is critical that you hire an experienced Georgia Influencing Witnesses Attorney to ensure you receive the best representation possible.
What Constitutes Influencing Witnesses in Georgia?
According to O.C.G.A. §16-10-93, a witness can be influenced with or without force.
(a) A person who, with intent to deter a witness from testifying freely, fully, and truthfully to any matter pending in any court, in any administrative proceeding, or before a grand jury, communicates, directly or indirectly, to such witness any threat of injury or damage to the person, property, or employment of the witness or to the person, property, or employment of any relative or associate of the witness or who offers or delivers any benefit, reward, or consideration for such witness or to a relative or associate of the witness shall will be guilty of influencing witnesses.
(b)(1) It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to use intimidation, physical force, or threats; to persuade another person by means of corruption or to attempt to do so; or to engage in misleading conduct toward another person with intent to:
(A) Influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;
(B) Cause or induce any person to withhold testimony or a record, document, or another object from an official proceeding, alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding, evade legal process summoning that person to appear as a witness or to produce a record, document, or other object in an official proceeding; or be absent from an official proceeding to which such person has been summoned by legal process; or
(C) Hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer, prosecuting attorney, or judge of this state of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a criminal offense or a violation of conditions of probation, parole, or release pending judicial proceedings.
Analysis of Influencing Witnesses Under Georgia Case Law
The crime of influencing a witness focuses solely on the conduct of the accused. The Court has concluded that a crime is completed when a direct or indirect threat is communicated to a witness. The witness' response to the threat is not the deciding factor. Further, the extent to which the victim was scared after the threat is not controlling. Johnson v. State, 277 Ga. App. 499, (2006).
A case in which an attorney was not found to have influenced the witness can be seen in Schoenbaum Ltd. Co., LLC v. Lenox Pines, LLC. In that case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant's counsel paying for a witness' hotel and travel expenses constituted influencing the witness. However, the Court found that the attorney's actions were explicitly permissible under the rules of professional conduct. The attorney is allowed to pay for hotel and travel expenses so that a witness can attend hearings. Therefore, he was acquitted of the influencing witnesses charge.
In the case of Burke v. State, Anthony Burke was convicted of influencing witnesses. The evidence showed that Burke was the owner of a pit bull named Black Girl. Several of Burke's neighbors witnesses him beating her to death. Two weeks after the incident, Burke went to the house of one of the witnesses, Samatha Caffee. He started to ask her questions about testifying and said if she did take the stand he was going to “tell them that she sold pills” among other things. During the trial, Burke argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of influencing Caffee because no specific threat was made. However, the Court found that Burke's menacing actions coupled with him on Caffee's property and threatening to tell law enforcement on her were sufficient. Therefore, he was convicted of influencing a witness.
Penalty for a Conviction of Influencing Witnesses in Georgia
If convicted of violating O.C.G.A. §16-10-93(a), the punishment will be a prison term between one and five years.
If convicted under O.C.G.A. §16-10-93(b), the punishment will increase to a prison term between two and ten years, a fine between $10,000 and $20,000, or both.
In either situation, the accused will be guilty of a felony. In addition to prison and fines, felony convictions come with additional consequences. The charge will show up on your background check and can make it difficult to obtain employment, housing, or even credit.
Due to the seriousness of the penalties associated with influencing witnesses, you need an influencing witnesses lawyer in Georgia. Don't take a chance by hiring a general practitioner. Hire a Georgia Influencing Witnesses Attorney that has decades of criminal defense experience.
Lack of Intent: Evidence that the accused did not have the intent to influence the witness in any way would negate an essential element. This defense can be complicated to develop so contact an influencing witnesses attorney in Georgia if this applies to your case.
Mistaken Identity: Even police officers make mistakes, and there is always a possibility that the wrong person is being charged with a crime. Any proof that you were wrongfully accused would be greatly beneficial.
No intimidation or physical threats were used: The difference between being charged with violating section (a) and (b) is significant. It is important to make sure you were charged under the right section or else you could face harsher penalties.
It was official communication, or legal actions: Similar to the case described above, not all interaction with witnesses will be to influence them. If the discussion or acts towards the witness is legal, then no crime has been committed.
What are not Defenses
It was not a direct threat: The statute specifies that even indirect threats can be enough to constitute influencing a witness. That is why hiring a Georgia Influencing Witnesses Attorney is so essential. They can present evidence and argue that your speech was not enough to constitute a threat.
The attempt to influence was unsuccessful: It is immaterial whether or not the influence caused the witness not to testify. The crime was completed once the communication or threat was made.
Influencing witnesses is a severe crime in Georgia, and a charge is not to be taken lightly. While a charge is not the same as a conviction, you need a Georgia Influencing Witnesses Lawyer from the very beginning. Our attorneys at Lawson and Berry have over 50 years of criminal defense experience. We are here for you no matter when you need us - nights, weekends, and holidays. Contact us now for a free case evaluation.