Tampering with evidence is a felony in Ohio. If you have been charged with this crime, you could face years of imprisonment and/or thousands of dollars in fines.
Ohio Revised Code § 2921.12 defines tampering with evidence as destroying, altering, concealing, or removing anything that could be used in the investigation or prosecution of an alleged crime. It also involves providing false documents, objects, or other items to impede a criminal investigation or prosecution.
For you to be convicted of tampering with evidence, the prosecutor must prove intent and knowledge. Intent means that you tampered with the item to make it invaluable or unusable as evidence, therefore, affecting the State's or other party's ability to support their claims and influencing the outcome.
Knowledge means that you were aware that a criminal investigation or prosecution was ongoing or about to commence. It also means that you knew that the item you tampered with was something that could have been used to investigate or prosecute the crime.
What Constitutes Tampering with Evidence?
Criminal cases are complex. As such, a variety of objects, documents, or other items can be used as evidence. Therefore, destroying or altering anything connected to the crime may be considered tampering with evidence, as long as the conduct was engaged in to prevent or avoid legal consequences.
Doing something like flushing drugs down a toilet to avoid a drug possession charge or deleting emails to conceal an insider trading offense constitutes tampering with evidence. A recent example of tampering with evidence in Ohio involves the alleged hazing death of a university student. Prosecutors allege that members of a fraternity made new members drink a 750 ml bottle of liquor. One of the recruits drank all or most of his bottle. The fraternity members left him home alone, where his roommate later found him.
The fraternity members were alleged to have provided false information to investigators and disposed of evidence. Accordingly, some were charged with tampering with evidence.
What Are the Penalties for Tampering with Evidence?
As noted previously, tampering with evidence is a third-degree felony. In Ohio, this level of charge is penalized by 9 to 36 months of imprisonment and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
The penalties for tampering with evidence are in addition to those you face for the primary offense. To illustrate this, let's take hazing as an example. Ohio Revised Code § 2903.31 provides that a violation occurs when a person or group makes an individual engage in conduct as part of initiation into the organization that puts them or others in danger of mental or physical harm.
If you were recklessly involved in the hazing incident, you could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. Now, suppose you deleted a video that was taken of the initiation ritual. You are now facing a tampering with evidence charge. If you are convicted of both offenses, you could be sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail for hazing and a maximum of 3 years in prison for tampering with evidence.
Defending Against Charges
Tampering with evidence is a serious offense. In some cases, it can be even more severe than the underlying crime, as it prevents a fair justice process. Although the charges and penalties you are facing are harsh, you can challenge the allegations against you. For example, you can argue that you did not intend to impede an investigation or prosecution or that you did not know an item would be used as evidence in a criminal matter.
Fighting criminal accusations for both the tampering with evidence charge and the primary crime (if you are suspected of being involved in the underlying offense) is complex. That is why you need a lawyer on your side prepared to stand up for you in and out of court. At Patituce & Associates, we have the knowledge, skills, and resources to develop a strategic defense in your case.
To speak with us about your legal options in Cleveland, call (440) 471-7784 or submit an online contact form today.