The criminal justice system's primary goal is to provide non-discriminatory justice to everyone regardless of race, color, gender, sex, social status, etc. To accomplish the said goal, the law must be aware of all the necessary details that might affect the trial's outcomes. That is the purpose of evidence. Evidence or proof is the information/s used to validate a proposition to be true or false. In the judiciary, it is the detail or information used in a court to prove something. The presence of necessary evidence may be the deciding factor on whether or not the accused is charged guilty. Due to its essential nature, it is a criminal offense to conceal or destroy any forms of evidence to misdirect the decisions of the court.
In the state of California, the PC 135 is enacted to criminalize the act of concealing or destroying evidence.
California Penal Code PC 135 declares that destroying or concealing any form of evidence is a criminal offense. The statute states that “a person who, knowing that any book, paper, record, instrument in writing, digital image, video recording owned by another, or other matter or thing, is about to be produced in evidence upon a trial, inquiry, or investigation, authorized by law, willfully destroys, erases, or conceals the same, with the intent to prevent it or its content from being produced, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
In a nutshell, the law criminalizes anyone who intentionally, knowingly, and willfully destroys and conceals any pieces of evidence with the intent of messing with the ongoing trial. Mind that the intention plays a major role in determining whether the accused should be charged guilty.
- Mathew threw away the t-shirt that he, together with his friends, stole from the mall.
- Samuel deleted drunk photos from a party after being caught driving under the influence.
- Erika erased messages that might link her to a recently caught drug dealer.
- Anthony, a lawyer, destroyed a laptop containing incriminating evidence that might send his client to prison.
- Jonathan buried a knife that his brother used to murder their neighbor.
Penalties for destroying or concealing evidence
As mentioned prior, purposefully concealing or destroying evidence, especially with the intent to mislead an ongoing investigation or a trial, can lead to a misdemeanor under PC 135. A misdemeanor is the level of the criminal offense more serious than an infraction but less severe compared to a felony. A misdemeanor typically includes serving time in county jail. The punishment for committing the criminal offense under PC 135 includes:
- a prison sentence of up to six (6) months, and
- a maximum fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
However, in some cases, a judge may grant the offender misdemeanor probation, also known as summary probation. This type of probation allows a low-risk offender to serve most, if not all, of his/her sentence outside of jail. However, despite being outside the prison, the offender is still subject to rules and regulations under the court's watchful supervision. If the offender fails to comply with the court's orders, his/her probation can be revoked.
Fighting a legal battle against PC 135 accusations requires specific details to prove the defendant's innocence. A competent defense lawyer might include some of the following conditions on their case:
- The defendant was coerced to commit the act,
- The act did not interfere with any legal proceedings, or
- No enough evidence links the accused to the crime.
Coerced - To be guilty of committing a criminal offense under PC 135, the offender must intentionally, knowingly, and willfully commit the act without being forced to do so. If he/she is coerced to commit the act, it could be grounds for his/her innocence.
No legal proceedings - Aside from willful participation, the act should also be done with the intent to mislead any on-going legal proceedings that follow the crime. A person might be innocent if his/her action did not in any way interfere with the investigation and/or trial.
Not enough evidence - On the topic of evidence, if there is not enough proof of a connection between the accused and the crime, he/she might be acquitted from facing possible charges.
The nuanced nature of fighting a legal battle against PC 135 requires an excellent criminal defense lawyer's knowledge and expertise to be beneficial to the parties involved. If you or anyone you know ever had the misfortune of dealing with such conflicts, it would be in your best interest to employ legal assistance from our roster of credible California defense attorneys.
- California Penal Code 132 – Faking, Forging, and/or Manipulating Written Evidence
- California Penal Code 134 – Falsification of Evidence
- California Penal Code 141 – Planting Evidence
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