I’ve written before about witness tampering, something we see regularly in crime fiction. A character tells another to keep her mouth shut, or hints that she – and her family and her cat – will live longer if she forgets what she saw.
What’s the potential punishment? In Billings, Montana, a man who told a witness in a federal grand jury drug investigation to keep his mouth shut got 40 months in prison. The guideline range maxed out at 37 months, but they are guidelines – and the judge chose a longer sentence because of the man’s criminal record.
Use or threat of a weapon is likely to result in a much longer sentence. In another federal case, the defendant was convicted of witness tampering and using a firearm in a crime, after taking three large friends to the apartment of a witness in a drug case against another man, sticking a gun in the witness’s face, and warning him against saying anything about the case. He got 46 months for the tampering with an additional mandatory 7 years for use of the gun.
Remember that the names and elements of charges vary. In a state court case, a man was convicted of felony tampering with a witness and informant, but acquitted of intimidation. A man was given a necklace, which he later took to a pawn shop, only to discover that it had been stolen from that same pawn shop several months earlier. He called the man who gave it to him, who came to his home and threatened to hurt him if anyone spoke to the police. The threat-maker had a long criminal history, and was awaiting trial on other charges. He received a sentence of 20 years, 5 suspended. The judge rejected the prosecutor’s suggestion of 30 years, 10 suspended, as too harsh, because the man had no history of violence, but also rejected the parents’ plea for leniency based on drug and alcohol problems, finding that he needed close supervision.
You may need your character – a goodie or a baddie – to threaten or intimidate a witness or information. Raise the stakes by knowing the potential charges and sentences.