It is against the law to destroy or conceal evidence, but these actions often still seem promising for those worried they may face a criminal conviction. Unfortunately, damaging or hiding evidence could result in your being charged with California Penal Code section 135 (PC). Sometimes people even end up in jail for destroying or concealing evidence that would not have hurt them otherwise. Call an attorney immediately if you have been accused of violating this law.
California’s Evidence Destruction Law
Under 135 (PC), it is a crime to willfully destroy or conceal something you know may be relevant to a court case or legal investigation. It is also illegal to submit forged or altered evidence to an investigator under California Penal Code sections 132 and 134 (PC).
This law does not require the legal proceeding to be of a criminal nature. You can be charged with this crime if you damage evidence related to a lawsuit or other civil matter. Also, you do not need to be the individual under criminal investigation —if you shred documents to protect someone else from prosecution, you can still be charged with destroying evidence.
Penalties for Violating 135 (PC)
Destroying or concealing evidence is a misdemeanor offense in California. The maximum sentence for violations of 135 (PC) is up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Additionally, you may face other charges like obstruction of justice or perjury if you lied while under oath or filling out a government document. Interestingly, offering or preparing false evidence to an investigator is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, meaning these charges are much more serious than destroying or concealing evidence charges.
If a criminal lawyer ever urges you to destroy or hide evidence, they are committing a crime, which could put your lawyer/client confidentiality at risk and jeopardize your criminal case. When this occurs, seek out new criminal defense attorneys as soon as possible to discuss your current legal situation and the potential issues that could arise due to your prior lawyer’s unethical and illegal advice.
Fighting Charges for Destroying Evidence
To prove charges related to 135 (PC), prosecutors must be able to show that you willfully destroyed or concealed evidence with the intent to prevent that type of evidence from being used against you in a criminal investigation. Some of the strongest defenses to this crime involve showing there is insufficient proof to prove these charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
First, you must know that the thing or things in question are likely to be used as evidence. If you shred old business documents every few months, you cannot be charged with the crime simply for clearing out your old paperwork. However, an exception would be made if you intentionally included documents you knew could be used as a paper record of evidence against you in a case or investigation.
Secondly, the destruction has to have been purposeful. For example, if a water pipe destroyed all the paperwork stored in your office, you cannot be blamed —unless the prosecution can show that you were responsible for damaging the pipe.
Showing that potential evidence was damaged purposefully to prevent it from falling into investigators’ hands can be difficult for the prosecution, especially when you have a skilled defense lawyer at your side.
Damaging Potential Evidence Frequently Won’t Help Your Case
In many cases, destroying evidence can prove fruitless because investigators will find other ways to collect the evidence they need or reconstruct it from any scraps you left behind. For example, if you delete emails, they will likely still be on the email server or in the inbox of the person who sent or received the messages. Alternatively, if you shred documents with no other copies, a forensics team might be brought in to reassemble the paper shreds, which will still be used as evidence.
With modern technologies, it is becoming more and more challenging to permanently destroy a piece of potential evidence in a way that cannot be recovered later on. It is much more effective to work with a top defense attorney to build a strategy to fight the charges against you than to damage evidence, which could also result in your facing criminal charges.
Call a Lawyer as Soon as Possible
If you aren’t sure if an action could be construed as destroying or concealing evidence or if you believe you are under investigation for any type of criminal offense, speak with a criminal defense attorney like Peter M. Liss as soon as possible. You can schedule a free consultation with his law firm by calling (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.