One of the biggest mistakes you can possibly make if charged with a crime is to attempt to contact the witnesses involved in your case. While you might have a very human impulse to “set the story straight,” the truth is you will be charged with an additional crime if you try.
The crime is tampering with or intimidating a witness, covered by New York Penal Law Section 215.
“Intimidating a victim or witness in the third degree. A person is guilty of intimidating a victim or witness in the third degree when, knowing that another person possesses information relating to a criminal transaction and other than in the course of that criminal transaction or immediate flight therefrom he wrongfully compels or attempts to compel such other person to refrain from communicating such information to any court, grand jury, prosecutor, police officer, or peace officer by means of instilling in him a fear that the actor will cause physical injury to such person or another person; or intentionally damages the property of such other person or another person for the purpose of compelling such other person or another person to refrain from communicating, or on account of such other person or another person having communicated, information relating to that criminal transaction to any court, grand jury, prosecutor, police officer, or peace officer.”
Intimidating a witness is a Class E felony. While you might think, “It should be fine as long as I don’t threaten them, right?” The truth is that your very presence or contact could be construed as a threat in many cases.
And all prosecutors need for a charge of “tampering with a witness in the fourth degree” is the “attempt to cause that person to refrain from testifying or make a false statement.” The prosecutor need only establish that you tried to get a witness to change their story. This is especially true if you offer money or gifts, as this can be construed as bribing a witness.
You can be convicted of tampering with a witness even if you are not convicted of the underlying crime that you were originally charged with.
Witness tampering is in the news right now. For example, in the January 6 hearings there are allegations that Trump loyalists attempted to tamper with witnesses.
The best thing you can do in a criminal case is to keep quiet about the case, to speak only to your lawyer about the case, and to steer clear of anyone else involved with the case. Anything else could vastly complicate your situation and create additional legal problems.
If you’re not sure, reach out to your criminal defense attorney for advice before you make any moves.