Tampering with Evidence in Florida

March 3, 2022 Criminal Defense

Often, a defendant will attempt to hide their involvement in a criminal act by destroying or tampering with evidence. But what constitutes evidence? The term is rather encompassing and includes any record, object, or document useful to a criminal inquiry or investigation. Common forms of evidence may be tangible objects such as illicit drugs, clothing, documents, or weapons, as well as digital records like photographs or videos stored on a computer. Tampering with evidence can look like a variety of acts, such as flushing illicit drugs down the toilet, erasing files from your computer that hold incriminating evidence, or hiding physical evidence of a crime, such as a weapon used to commit the crime.

What’s the Law?

Under Section 918.13 of the Florida Statutes, it is illegal to tamper with or fabricate physical evidence. Specifically, the law states:

  1. No person, knowing that a criminal trial or proceeding or an investigation by a duly constituted prosecuting authority, law enforcement agency, grand jury or legislative committee of this state is pending or is about to be instituted, shall:
  2. Alter, destroy, conceal, or remove any record, document, or thing with the purpose to impair its verity or availability in such proceeding or investigation; or
  3. Make, present, or use any record, document, or thing, knowing it to be false.

 Tampering or fabricating physical evidence in violation of the statute will result in a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and 5 years of probation.

Tampering Evidence During a Police Pursuit

We have all heard of scenarios where a suspect being pursued by law enforcement discards illicit evidence in their possession. This may look like a suspect ingesting the drugs they had on their person before they are apprehended by police or throwing something out of their window before a law enforcement officer approaches their vehicle. But do these situations constitute tampering or fabricating evidence? The court in State v. Jennings held that “the affirmative act of throwing evidence away constitutes more than mere abandonment [and that] depending on the circumstances, such an act could amount to tampering or concealing evidence.” This ruling was handed down after the defendant in the case swallowed cocaine he had in his possession when officers approached him. Therefore, the act of swallowing an object when confronted or pursued by police constitutes altering, destroying, concealing, or removing a thing with the purpose to impair its verity or availability in such proceeding or investigation under Section 918.13.

Possible Defenses

The following defenses may be applicable if you are charged with tampering with evidence:

  • The police seized the tampered evidence during an illegal search or seizure;
  • The defendant did not know of the pending investigation or criminal proceeding when the evidence was destroyed;
  • The alteration, destruction, concealment, or removal of the record, document, or thing was done for purposes other than tampering with evidence;
  • The evidence was not destroyed but abandoned because it was no longer needed or wanted by the defendant.

A Recent Case

In late February, Kervin Moreno was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents and was charged with tampering or fabricating physical evidence. The case arose when FDLE agents reviewed documents that Moreno had tampered with and subsequently filed with the court as part of a real estate scheme to defraud consumers.

He has been arrested two previous times for this same scam, which involved placing ads for homes to rent or buy on Craigslist or other websites. After advertising homes that he neither owned nor had the authority to sell, Moreno would collect deposits or down payments on the homes. It is estimated that the monetary loss to victims because of these past crimes was nearly $50,000. He is currently being held in custody without bond and faces a third-degree felony charge.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with tampering or fabricating evidence, contact a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against a wide range of criminal charges, including evidence tampering, and will explore every applicable defense on your behalf. Give us a call at (850) 681 -7777 or send an online message to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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