Tampering with Evidence
The Tennessee Supreme Court has included a case on its upcoming docket in which it will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to convict a defendant of tampering with evidence where there is no eyewitness to the actual act of alleged tampering. The defendant was convicted for tampering after he allegedly flushed cocaine down the toilet when police officers entered his home. No one apparently ever saw the defendant flush the cocaine down the toilet, but the defendant got up and ran from the room when he saw police and then the police heard the toilet flush. Officers testified that when they apprehended the defendant just after they heard the toilet flush, he was not undressed at all and there was water on the toilet seat, leading them to think something had been flushed. Since cocaine was found throughout the house, the officers concluded it was likely cocaine.
This case presents a complex issue, because arguments for both sides have some merit. From the point of view of the state, tampering with evidence will almost always be out of view of authorities, and its goal is to be undetectable. Thus, it will often be necessary to draw inferences from the surrounding facts to prove tampering rather than requiring an eyewitness every time.
From the point of view of the defendant, however, there is absolutely no evidence that anyone witnessed him flush anything down the toilet, and there is certainly no evidence indicating exactly what, if anything, was flushed. The issue basically boils down to whether the inferences of police officers on the scene are sufficient to convict the defendant of tampering.
The Court’s decision in this case will be important for the defendant, because tampering is a Class C felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison, but it is also important for the criminal law field as a whole. If the kind of evidence that is present in this case is all that is needed to convict someone of tampering, it is likely the charge will be prosecuted more often and with greater success in the future.
Source: State v. Majors, 35 TAM 07-01 and 34 TAM 27-26 (Tenn.Cr.App. 2009), appeal granted 10/19/09.