It’s a common scenario for someone facing domestic violence charges in California: Suddenly, you are also being charged with “dissuading a witness” under California Penal Code 136.1.
These are serious charges that can result in a felony conviction in same cases. It is important to understand the statutory framework and the real-world implications.
What is the statute?
California Penal Code 136.1(a) deems “Falsifying evidence, and bribing, influencing, intimidating or threatening witnesses” in the context of domestic violence a criminal offense.
More specifically, it is a “public offense,” punishable by up to a year in jail, for knowingly and maliciously:
- Preventing or dissuading any witness or victim from attending or giving testimony at any trial, proceeding, or inquiry authorized by law
- Attempting to prevent or dissuade any witness or victim from attending or giving testimony at any trial, proceeding, or inquiry authorized by law
Section (b) gets more specific, making it a criminal offense for “every person who attempts to prevent or dissuade another person who has been the victim of a crime or who is witness to a crime from…making any report of that victimization to any…law enforcement officer or probation or parole or correctional officer or prosecuting agency or to any judge.”
Here we have a crime for preventing or even dissuading someone from giving testimony or aiding the police. In fact, 136.1 criminalizes even the attempt to dissuade someone from contacting the police.
The statute gets even more stringent. According to PC 136.1(c), when the act of dissuading or attempting to dissuade “is accompanied by force or by an express or implied threat of force or violence, upon a witness or victim or any third person or the property of any victim, witness, or any third person,” it is considered a felony, punishable by imprisonment of two to four years.
How does this statute play out in real life?
PC 136.1 cases often involve stealing or destroying of an alleged domestic violence victim’s (or witness’s) phone. A common scenario looks something like this:
Two spouses are arguing, and things escalate. At some point in the argument, one spouse threatens to call the cops on the other. The other spouse grabs the phone and either hides it or destroys it.
Obviously, this is a perfectly normal scenario. Most people who have been married any length of time can see that this is not an outrageous criminal act.
However, under the California Penal Code, situations similar to this one are considered “dissuading a witness,” and the penalties are significant. Of course, if there is any violence or even a threat of violence involved in the exchange, the situation is much worse.
Add to the above scenario, when taking away the cell phone, the defendant spouse yells “if you don’t give me that phone, I’ll kill you!” Again, a very common phrase, something people say all the time – even friends say this to each other jokingly – but if it is proven in court, it could be charged as a felony with up to four years in prison.
What can you do?
If you are in a scenario like this, you need aggressive representation from an experienced attorney who can defend you against these charges. You could be charged with a felony for a simple escalated argument, so you know the stakes are high. The most important thing for you to do is fight back aggressively with a legal team committed to defending your rights. Attorney Mark Deniz is a former prosecutor who knows how to dismantle charges like this. The legal team at the Premier Domestic Violence Law Group can help you.