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What Happens if You Inadvertently Tamper with Evidence?

If you are under criminal investigation, you may instinctively want to hide or destroy any evidence that can incriminate you. It is human nature, and while understandable, our justice system does not go lightly upon those who are found guilty of tampering with evidence.

Evidence tampering is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a fine of $10,000 in Tennessee. But what happens if you inadvertently tamper with evidence?

If you have been accused of tampering with evidence, do not wait another minute. Contact our Nashville, TN, criminal defense attorney to learn more.

Tennessee Law on Evidence Tampering

Tennessee Code §39-16-503 makes it illegal for any person to alter, destroy, or conceal evidence with the intent of calling into question its accuracy, making it illegible or unusable. Conversely, a person who presents documentation or evidence with knowledge that it has been falsified will also be guilty of tampering with evidence.

Evidence tampering requires a state of mind or “intent.” For an individual to be found guilty of evidence tampering, a prosecutor must prove that you intended to hide or conceal evidence or presented fake evidence with the knowledge that it was fabricated. The prosecution must show that the evidence tampering was done with the intention of changing the outcome of the case.

Federal Law on Evidence Tampering

The penalties for federal evidence tampering are more severe than being prosecuted under state law. Unlike state courts, federal courts have stricter sentencing guidelines since the offenses usually pertain to national security and public safety.

18 U.S.C. § 1519 states that whoever “alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry, in any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to impede or obstruct justice will be found guilty of evidence tampering. Under federal statute, you will be fined and may potentially serve 20 years in federal prison or both.

Examples of Evidence Tampering

Evidence tampering may include the following:

  • Altering evidence: Using “white-out” to change a date on a document
  • Destroying evidence: Wiping away DNA evidence at crime scene
  • Concealing evidence: Hiding drugs
  • Falsifying evidence: Planting fingerprints at a crime scene

Is Inadvertently Tampering with Evidence a Crime?

Since tampering with evidence requires intent, if you mistakenly alter or modify evidence, this is not a crime. Take, for example, if you worked at a construction company that is being investigated for tax fraud. You are unaware that the company was under investigation for fraud. Your supervisor asks you to shred a stack of documents.

Unbeknownst to you, the documents contain information on the business’s fraudulent activities. You destroy the evidence, not knowing that you are helping the business owner and his partners conceal incriminating evidence.

This would be an example of inadvertently tampering with evidence. You did not know what you were destroying and that it was key to a criminal investigation. In this situation, you would not be prosecuted under state or federal law.

Consult with our Nashville, TN, Criminal Defense Attorney

If law enforcement has accused you of evidence tampering, you need legal counsel. Attorney Andrew C. Beasley is a Nashville, TN, criminal defense attorney who is ready to advocate on your behalf. Contact the office today online or by phone to schedule your free consultation.

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