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Destruction of Evidence: Definition, Defences & Penalties

A destruction of evidence charge, also known as tampering with evidence, is a criminal offense that involves knowingly altering, concealing, or destroying evidence that is relevant to a legal investigation or proceeding. This charge can apply in various contexts, including criminal investigations, civil lawsuits, and regulatory inquiries.
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Destroying or Concealing Evidence in California – Penal Code 135 PC

California Penal Code Section 135 PC defines the crime of destroying or concealing evidence. This law prohibits the willful destruction or concealment of anything that is intended to be produced for a criminal investigation, inquiry, or trial.

California Penal Code 135 defines destroying or concealing evidence as follows:

Any person who knows that a record, instrument, image, video recording, or other items are going to be used as evidence in a trail or investigation, then willfully destroys, conceals, or erases with intent to prevent them from being used.

While PC 135 is not commonly prosecuted, it is typically associated with criminal investigations by law enforcement or family law matters.

To be convicted under PC 135, the prosecutor must prove certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt, including that the defendant knew the evidence would be used in an investigation or court proceeding and that they deliberately and willfully destroyed or concealed the evidence.

If the defendant attempts but fails to destroy or conceal the evidence, it does not constitute a crime under Penal Code 135. The defendant must have actually succeeded in destroying or concealing the evidence to be convicted.

Also Read: Direct Evidence Definition

Willful Destruction of Evidence

According to Robert Helfend from Ventura Criminal Defense, destroying evidence during a legal proceeding is considered a crime if done willfully and knowingly [1]. Accidental destruction, destroying an object without knowledge that it may be used as evidence, or the spoilage of evidence is not sufficient for a conviction under Penal Code 135 PC.

Legally, “willfully” destroying or concealing evidence means that it is done with a purpose or intention to commit the criminal act. “Knowingly” destroying or concealing evidence means that you knew that the object was going to be used as evidence in a legal proceeding and were aware that you were acting in the destruction or concealment of it – Helfend stated.

For a conviction of destroying or concealing evidence, the evidence must be involved in a legal proceeding, which could include a criminal investigation, trial, or inquiry.

What is the Penalty for Destruction of Evidence in California?

According to SCLG, violating Section 135 PC is classified as a misdemeanor offense [2]. The penalties for this offense include imprisonment in the county jail for a period of up to six months and a maximum fine of $1,000. In many cases, these matters are resolved through negotiation, but if an agreement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to a criminal trial.

Defenses Against a Destruction of Evidence Charge

To prove your innocence, the law allows a number of defenses that can be used at trial. While it is up to the prosecution to prove that you are guilty, you may also opt to present a defense inclusive of any of the following:

  • Lack of criminal intent: The prosecution must prove that you knowingly and willfully destroyed or concealed evidence. If this element is missing, it can be a strong defense.
  • Mistake of fact: Your intent must also include knowing that the evidence was to be used in a legal proceeding.
  • False accusation: You may be the victim of misunderstanding or malicious intent by someone else.

Even when facing damaging evidence, the law considers you innocent until proven guilty. It’s crucial to remain calm, seek advice from a competent criminal defense attorney, and start building your defense from the moment of arrest. Further investigation and legal research can lead to a reduction in charges or even dismissal.

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