TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Shirley K. Turner which increases the penalties associated with witness intimidation and tampering in order to help law enforcement encourage more witnesses to step forward and testify during criminal court trials has been signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine.
“Every day, crimes are committed, and because of fear, witnesses choose to look the other way,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “Just the other day I saw a clip on the news of a man being beaten on the subway by a hammer-wielding attacker, and no one came to the victim’s aide. Surveillance video from the train and tips from witnesses later helped police to apprehend the assailant. Legislation like this will help to bring these vicious criminals to justice, and see them placed behind bars where they should be.”
“Years ago, community residents took care of one another, and if their neighbor was harmed they would go to police to ensure that those responsible were held accountable,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “More recently, neighbors have been increasingly hesitant to come forward with information. Street campaigns like ‘Stop Snitching’ use fear and intimidation as tools to silence witnesses. We have to stand with witnesses and let them know that their testimony is useful, and that the law will protect them and their families should they choose to testify.”
The Senators’ bill, S-367/503, upgrades the penalties for witness tampering, retaliation, hindering, and bribery. The law applies to official proceedings that are pending, about to be instituted, and have already been instituted.
Under the new law, a person would be found guilty of witness intimidation if he knowingly engages in conduct that would cause a witness to: 1) testify or inform falsely; 2) withhold any testimony or evidence; 3) elude legal process summoning him to testify or supply evidence; 4) absent himself from any proceeding or investigation to which he was legally summoned; or 5) otherwise obstruct, delay, prevent or impede an official proceeding or investigation.
Previously, witness tampering was considered a third degree crime. If the intimidator used force or the threat of force it was upgraded to a second degree crime.
This law increases tampering to a first degree crime, and increases penalties for intimidating witnesses testifying against crimes listed in the No Early Release Act. These crimes include: murder, aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter, vehicular homicide, aggravated assault, disarming a law enforcement officer, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, carjacking, aggravated arson, burglary, extortion, booby traps in manufacturing facilities, strict liability for drug induced deaths, terrorism, or producing or possessing chemical weapons.
The law also increases penalties for retaliation against a witness or informant to a second degree if force is used. Without the use of force, retaliation constitutes a third degree offense.
The law ads the crime of making a bribe. Previously, the law only addressed the taking or soliciting of a bribe. Making a bribe to tamper with a witness or informant is now a second degree offense.
Under the new law, using force, intimidation or deception to hinder an investigation or prosecution by tampering with witnesses, informants, and evidence will constitute a second degree crime.
The law requires all convictions for tampering, retaliation, bribery and hindering witnesses or informants be served consecutively.