Destroying or Concealing Evidence Law in California – Penal Code 135 PC
California Penal Code Section 135 PC is the statute that defines the offense of destroying or concealing evidence. It's described as willfully destroying or concealing anything that is going to be produced for a criminal investigation, inquiry, or even a trial.
In simple language, PC 135 criminalizes the act of tampering with any form of evidence when you know it's relevant to lawful investigation.
It should be noted PC 135 is not a frequently prosecuted crime, but in cases where it has been filed, it normally is connected to some type of criminal investigation by law enforcement, or even a family law matter.
Is should also be noted that you must know the evidence was going to be used against you and then you “willfully” destroyed or concealed it.
- Let's say you are a business owner and you find out there is a criminal investigation for some type of fraud crime. In response, you decide to destroy documentation that could incriminate you. In this scenario, you could be charged under Penal Code 135 PC.
- Yet another example includes a situation where you intentionally conceal financial documentation that could be used to determine spousal support in your divorce.
Penal Code 135 PC also applies to law enforcement officers who decide to willfully conceal or destroy evidence that could be favorable to someone who has been charged with a crime.
The term “evidence” in the context of PC 135 includes a wide range of items.
For example, pictures, videos, legal documentation, cell phone, text messages, emails, weapons, clothing, controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and many more.
In order to give readers a better understanding of California's destroying or concealing evidence laws, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are providing a detailed review below.
What is the Definition of PC 135 Destroying or Concealing Evidence?
California Penal Code 135 defines destroying or concealing evidence as follows:
- “Any person who knows that a record, instrument, image, video recording, or other items are going to be used as evidence in a trail or investigation, then willfully destroys, conceals, or erases with intent to prevent them from being used.”
It should be noted in order to be convicted of a PC 135 offense, the prosecutor has to be able to prove certain factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
These factors, known as the “elements of the crime,” include that the defendant:
- Knew the evidence was going to be used in an investigation or court proceeding
- Deliberately and willfully and deliberately destroyed or concealed the evidence
If the defendant makes an attempt to destroy and or conceal evidence, but fails, it's not considered a crime under Penal Code 135.
In other words, in order to be convicted, the defendant must actually be successful in destroying or concealing the evidence.
What are the Relevant Legal Proceedings?
In order violate Penal Code 135, you must have concealed or destroyed some type of evidence that is relevant to a legal proceeding, such as any of the following:
- Criminal investigation before arrest
- Criminal case trial
- Parole violation hearing
- Police investigating crime in a jail
- Family law or bankruptcy trail
In some PC 135 destroying or concealing evidence cases, it can prove difficult for a prosecutor to prove the crucial factors that a defendant's conduct was “willful and deliberate.”
What are The Related California Offenses?
- Penal Code 118 PC – Perjury
- Penal Code 132 PC – Offering False Evidence
- Penal Code 133 PC – Deceiving Witness to Affect Testimony
- Penal Code 134 PC – Preparing False Evidence
- Penal Code 141 PC – Planting Evidence
What are The Penalties?
If you are convicted of destroying or concealing evidence in violation of PC 135, it's a misdemeanor offense and the penalties include:
- Up to one year in a county jail
- A fine up to $1,000.
Additional punishments include summary probation, restitution, and potential immigration consequences for undocumented immigrants because PC 135 is considered a crime involving moral turpitude.
You should be aware that a Penal Code 135 violation only apples to a lawful legal proceeding, not a private investigation.
If you are currently under a criminal investigation for destroying or concealing evidence, you need to remain silent as you may incriminate yourself.
How Can I Fight Destroying or Concealing Evidence Charges?
If you have been charged with destroying or concealing evidence in violation of Penal Code 135, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome on the case.
Our lawyers need to first review all the details of the case. However, some of the most common defenses include:
- Evidence not destroyed – As discussed above in the elements of the crime, in order to be convicted of PC 135, it must be proven you were successful in destroying or concealing the evidence. This means there was no crime if only an attempt was made. We might be able to make an argument that the evidence wasn't destroyed or concealed. If successful, you should able to avoid a conviction.
- Mistaken Belief – Recall from above that you can't be convicted of PC 135 unless it's been proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, you knew you were destroying or concealing evidence that was to be used in some type of legal proceeding.
In some cases, we might be able to make an argument you simply did not know the evidence was going to be used in a criminal investigation or a legal proceeding.
The argument is that you had a mistaken belief the evidence you actually destroyed was not part of any type of legal proceeding.
Our goal is to cast doubt of this element of the crime. Again, if successful, you have a good chance at avoiding a conviction.
If you are under a criminal investigation or have been charged with destroying or concealing evidence under California Penal Code 135, contact our criminal defense attorneys to review the details of your case.
Cron, Israels & Stark is a top-rated criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025.
We are also located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401.
Contact our firm for a free case consultation at (424) 372-3112.