The son of a man serving nearly three decades behind bars following his conviction for methamphetamine distribution has now himself been sentenced to more than three years after a judge found he was guilty of retaliation against a witness.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, defendant was charged with obstruction of justice after the man sent threatening Facebook messages and memes to a witness who testified in his father’s drug trafficking trial. The fact that the son’s alleged missives were delivered via social media didn’t matter. Although the judge misstated the exact form of the messages at sentencing, referring to them as “emails,” he made it clear that witness tampering and intimidation is a crime no matter the method of delivery.
“This is obstruction of justice. It is what it is,” the U.S. District judge told the defendant at sentencing. “…You must not interfere with the judicial process. It’s a serious crime.”
And with that, the judge sentenced defendant to 37 months in prison.
Miami criminal defense attorneys are seeing this type of case more frequently, as instantaneous digital communication has become the norm. Firing off a quick Tweet or a nasty voicemail or a anger-induced Facebook rant can be done so quickly. And once it’s sent or posted, it can be impossible to erase. Not only is it much easier than in years’ past to blast this communication in the heat of moment, the evidence is readily available.
This case, which unfurled in the Eastern District of Tennessee, began with the criminal trial of defendant’s father. The elder defendant reportedly held a key role in a large-scale distribution ring for methamphetamine, involving more than 200 pounds of drugs. Word that one of the witnesses was cooperating with federal authorities spread. That witness was at one point violently assaulted, though the younger defendant was not believed to have had involvement in the beating.
However, prosecutors say the younger defendant, age 32, did threaten the witness numerous times. He sent a personal message to the witness on Facebook, saying his father had been good to the witness and he promised to “pay back the favor” for the betrayal. He also posted a number of memes that illustrated violent acts against “snitches.” The witness was in protective federal custody at the time those messages were received, due to the earlier battery. Those who attacked him physically have not yet been arrested, and it’s not clear the government has even identified them.
At his sentencing, defendant’s attorney argued for a lighter sentence, underscoring defendant played no role in the beating and home invasion and he never stated explicitly that he would inflict violence on the witness. Prosecutor countered it was imperative the judge send a message, as many witnesses in drug cases are already fearful of their safety.
In Florida, F.S. 914.22 outlines the definition of and penalties for informant/ witness tampering or harassment. It is not only threats or physical violence, but also coercion and enticement. In cases where the tampering affects a misdemeanor case or a third-degree felony, it is considered a third-degree felony crime, for which the maximum penalty is five years in prison. In case where it affects a first-degree felony, witness tampering is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. In cases where it affects a life felony, witness tampering is a first-degree felony, punishable by 30 years in prison.
Contact the Miami criminal defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley at (305) 358-7991 for a confidential consultation on your pending criminal matter.
Email? Facebook message? Judge cares less about the label than the crime, May 16, 2016, By Jamie Satterfield, The Knoxville News Sentinel
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