In New Jersey, believing that an official proceeding or investigation is pending or about to be instituted, a person alters, destroys, conceals or removes any article, object, record, document or other thing of physical substance with purpose to impair its verity or availability in such proceeding or investigation commits the crime of tampering with evidence. Physical evidence includes documents, emails, a motor vehicle, photographs, a computer’s hard drive, DNA, or any evidence at a crime scene. Likewise, a person who makes, devises, prepares, presents offers or uses any article, object, record, document or other thing of physical substance knowing it to be false and with purpose to mislead a public servant who is engaged in such proceeding or investigation commits the crime of tampering with evidence.
People often associate evidence tampering with law enforcement officials or officers who are accused of planting evidence at a crime scene to implicate someone, or who destroy evidence in an attempt to cover up wrongdoing or which would exonerate an innocent defendant.
It is not a defense if you were unaware that the evidence was relevant or material to the outcome of a case. An exception might be where a driver was reasonably unaware he or she was involved in a hit-and-run accident and repaired the vehicle before becoming aware of the incident.
Examples of Evidence Tampering
The following examples involve physical evidence that is, or was to be used, in an investigation or official proceeding such as a trial or hearing, or was tampered with during any stage of an investigation or proceeding.
- Deleting emails that could be used in an investigation
- Shredding subpoenaed documents
- Falsifying business records to be used in an official proceeding
- Altering a videotape or photograph depicting wrongdoing or which may be incriminating
- Concealing or destroying illegal drugs while stopped for a traffic offense or while being searched
- Altering, moving, planting or destroying evidence at a crime scene
- Surreptitiously repairing or destroying a vehicle knowingly involved in a hit-and-run accident
- Preparing a false document to deliberately mislead a public official
Typically, a charge of evidence tampering is a crime of the fourth degree in New Jersey. This offense carries possible prison time of up to 18 months and a fine up to $10,000.
A conviction for evidence tampering is also considered a crime of dishonesty and can bar individuals from government employment under the “forfeiture” law of New Jersey if the crime involved their office. An expungement does not enable the former employee to regain his or her eligibility to seek government employment.
If you are ever arrested for a crime, immediately contact a criminal defense attorney. As most people know, you should be advised of your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney when you are arrested, although a police officer’s failure to do so does not necessarily mean any charges against you will be dismissed.
You have a right not to make any statements or to give any information other than your identity. Should police ask for a statement, politely refuse and ask to speak to your own attorney.
If you are in detention, do not speak to any inmates or give out any facts about your case to anyone on a phone. Any statements you make to anyone can be used against you. Also, phone calls are routinely monitored and tapes of any incriminating comments will also be used to your detriment.
A conviction of a charge of evidence tampering is a serious crime, which carries far-reaching consequences in your everyday life. A public record is made of your conviction and is accessible to any employer, landlord, college admissions personnel, credit agency, immigration authorities or to any other member of the public.
You will be at a severe disadvantage in applying for employment, housing, obtaining credit, travel, achieving citizenship, applying for schools, or keeping or obtaining a professional license.
A criminal defense lawyer can assure that your legal rights are protected, viable defenses are explored, and whether alternative charges that might reduce the offense are possible. Retaining a criminal defense lawyer at the earliest stages of your case is vital to a satisfactory outcome of your case.