California Penal Code 135 -Destroying or Concealing Evidence

California has zero-tolerance for people who destroy evidence or who violate any of the similar offenses. These types of laws are all considered obstruction of justice. Destroying evidence is just as serious as planting evidence and you can expect the same level of treatment if you are caught. This offense carries misdemeanor consequences that should not be taken lightly.

It can be difficult, not to mention risky attempting to face this offense without an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. You should not have to face this legal battle alone. An effective defense attorney will have a critical understanding of obstruction laws and can help fight on your behalf.

To gain a deeper understanding of this law, let’s take a look at how California defines concealing or destroying evidence.

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Definition of destroying or concealing evidence

California outlines what it means to destroy or conceal evidence under Penal Code 135. This law prohibits any person from willfully engaging in the destruction or concealment of evidence related to a crime. You violate this law if you:

  • Willfully,
    • To act willfully means to have acted on purpose and with intention.
  • Concealed or destroyed,
    • This includes hiding, erasing, damaging, or withholding.
  • Evidence relevant to legal proceedings.
    • Evidence includes books, digital pictures, instruments in writing, paper records, video recordings, or anything else that could have been considered evidence.
    • Legal proceedings include:
      • Court trials, criminal investigations, inquiries, or similar procedures that have been sanctioned by law.

This offense is not uncommon in cases ranging from drug-related charges to high-profile criminal investigations. One of the purposes of this law is to prevent the obstruction of justice. Instances in which this law or closely-related offenses are violated are also considered crimes against public justice.

Associated Offenses

Although PC 135, destroying evidence carries misdemeanor consequences, there are highly similar laws that carry felony penalties. If you face any of the following offenses, it’s highly recommended you find a criminal defense attorney who can help.

Here are just a few of the associated offenses that are considered obstruction and crimes against public justice.

California Penal Code 132 - making false written statements;

This law prohibits an individual from offering to make or making false written statements during a legal proceeding.

California Penal Code 134 - preparing false evidence;

This crime is committed when someone prepares false evidence with intentions of using it fraudulently during a legal proceeding.

California Penal Code 136.1 - dissuading or intimidating a witness;

You commit this crime when you dissuade or intimidate a witness or victim to a crime from making a legal statement or from testifying in court.

California Penal Code 141 - planting evidence;

You commit this crime when you plant or tamper with evidence for the purposes of trying to get someone charged with a crime or to deceive the courts or other involved parties during a legal proceeding.

California Penal Code 148 - resisting or obstructing a police officer;

This law prohibits an individual from obstructing or resisting a police officer or EMT while they are performing their official duties.

The Prosecution

There are specific facts the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to successfully convict someone of PC 135, for concealing or destroying evidence. These factors are called the:

Elements of the Crime

The accused did:

  • Willfully and knowingly,
    • They acted with willful intent and knew what they were doing.
  • Conceal or destroy evidence,
    • Evidence such as material objects, written documentation, or digital information.
      • Such as physical or digital images, letters, records, or videos.
    • That could or would be used in a legal proceeding.
      • They knew said evidence could be or was going to be used in an inquiry, investigation, or court proceeding.

The prosecution will act quickly to get a conviction if they believe they can present enough evidence, especially in situations where overall legal proceedings were negatively impacted by the defendant’s actions. An effective criminal defense attorney will aggressively fight for your rights to gain the best possible outcome.

Who Can Be Charged

Take a look at the following examples. They illustrate the simple or complicated situations that can lead to being charged with concealing or destroying evidence under PC 135.

Example 1:

Stanley did not want his investors to back out of his business dealings. He knew his accounting firm was under investigation for PC 186.10, money laundering but wanted it swept under the rug as quickly as possible. Thinking getting rid of the evidence would speed-up the process, he chose to erase digital accounting records. Information that could have been used as evidence during an investigation into his fraudulent accounting practices.

Stanley could be charged with PC 135, for erasing digital information that is relevant to the on-going criminal investigation.

Example 2:

Ivy was a college student who worked at a bar. She wanted to impress her college friends and would give them free drinks when they would come in. A couple of her friends admitted they were only eighteen years old, but promised they would not tell anyone. She trusted them and continued serving them drinks.

They all went out partying and took pictures of their night. The underage girls were pulled over by police on the way home and charged with DUI’s. They told police Ivy had given them alcohol and partied with them. At this point, Ivy can be charged with violating California’s Business and Professions Code 25658, selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Ivy denied their story and she deleted the images on her smartphone showing them drinking and partying together. She would face additional charges for PC 135, deleting digital evidence, images that corroborated the minor’s accounts.

Example 3:

Tommy was under investigation for Health and Safety Code 11352, selling illegal controlled substances. His friends and acquaintances were questioned by detectives and one of them managed to warn Tommy of the impending police search. Acting quickly, he flushed all of his illicit drug supply down the toilet. Not wanting to get rid of his ledger, which tracked who owed him money, he decided to hide it in a book safe and placed it with the rest of his books. 

Detectives came to his home with a warrant and began their search. Tommy stood in front of the bookshelf while they searched the house, pretending to feign innocence. One of the detectives noticed him leaning on the bookshelf and decided to check every book, eventually finding the ledger.

Tommy could still face charges for HS 11352, selling illegal drugs. He will also face PC 135 charges for flushing his supply down the toilet and attempting to hide his ledger.

Example 4:

Dawn lived in National City, but would often shop at stores and malls in Chula Vista. Her neighbors noticed she would be wearing extravagant jewelry while carrying in new electronics every week. After a couple of months of not getting caught shoplifting expensive merchandise outside her local area, she decided to shoplift from local businesses. An investigation was opened when a Chula Vista mall captured a blurry image of her on camera walking out of stores with bags of merchandise she didn’t pay for. The estimated value of stolen items was over ten-thousand dollars.

Dawn grew suspicious when she noticed a couple of detectives hanging around her apartment complex. She began destroying the electronics, bringing bits of it down to the dumpster with her kitchen garbage. She put the stolen jewelry inside sandwich bags and put one of them inside a bag of frozen peas in her freezer. She also hid the other sandwich bags in a couple of marinara jars. She poured just a little marinara sauce into her sink to create room for the rest of the jewelry. Then she placed the jars in her refrigerator.

After discovering pieces of stolen electronics in the dumpster, the detectives were able to get a search warrant for her apartment. They noticed the spilled marinara sauce in the kitchen sink and were curious as to why the jars in her refrigerator still looked full. Shaking a jar, they noticed the plastic inside and found the hidden jewelry. Suspecting clever concealment in the rest of her groceries, they checked the freezer. One of them picked up the bag of frozen peas and instantly noticed the weight. They felt the shape of a watch and discovered another sandwich bag with jewelry in it.

If the total value of what was shoplifted was under nine-hundred-fifty dollars, she would have faced a PC 495.5 shoplifting offense. However, the dollar amount of stolen items exceeded ten-thousand dollars and Dawn was charged with PC 487, grand theft. Since she destroyed the stolen electronics and attempted to hide the jewelry, she will also face charges for PC 135, destroying and concealing evidence during a criminal investigation.

Legal Defense

Anyone charged with PC 135 will have a challenging fight ahead. Retaining the right criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between facing the minimal consequences or receiving the maximum penalties.

A knowledgeable legal defense team will be familiar with the most common defenses that have been used to fight any concealing or destroying evidence charges.

Was there a legitimate legal proceeding? Was it evidence?

Evidence is any material that would be considered relevant to the legal proceeding. You should not be guilty of PC 135 if the materials in question were not related to the inquiry, investigation, or court proceeding.

For example, Lynn was under investigation for PC 503, embezzlement. Her assistant, Bella, was not aware of the legal proceedings and helped Lynn clean out the home office. Lynn asked Bella to shred stacks of paperwork. When questioned by detectives, Bella suspected the paperwork she shredded might have been evidence and told them about it. Lynn was charged with PC 135, destroying evidence relevant to an on-going embezzlement investigation.

Fortunately, Lynn was able to produce the shredded paperwork to her criminal defense attorney. After carefully piecing together the shredded puzzle, they proved the paperwork was not related to the on-going investigation and the PC 135 charge was dropped.

Was it an accident? Did you lack willful intent? 

If you did not know the materials you were destroying was evidence or the destruction was an accident, you should not be guilty of PC 135. Knowingly and willfully committing the act is a main element of the crime.

Ben’s roommate, Mike, was under investigation for transporting illicit controlled substances, HS 11352. Ben was clueless about Mike’s activities. When house cleaning, he found an old backpack with paper sheets inside plastic sleeves. He thought they looked like one-cent stamps and thought they weren’t worth anything, so he threw them away. It turns out the stamp-like paper sheets were blotters, also known as LSD blotters. While Mike was charged with HS 11352, Ben was charged with PC 135.

However, Ben did not know what the sheets were, nor that they were related to the drug charges against Mike. Ben’s defense attorney was able to get the charges dropped when his lack of knowledge and willful intent was made clear, as he didn’t even know what LSD was, nor what it would look like.

Did they have probable cause? 

Police officers are required to have probable cause that someone is engaging in criminal activity before stopping, searching, or arresting them. If they did not have justifiable probable cause to stop and search you, any alleged incriminating evidence they find could be dismissed and the charges dropped.

Carl, for example, was riding his skateboard home from the skate park when he was stopped by police officers. He told them he was at the skate park all day, with witnesses. Then he asked if he was being detained or could he go home. He popped a couple of hard candies in his mouth while talking to them. The police officers got angry at his reply and searched him. They found a gram of marijuana hash and two cannabis-infused candies in his pocket. Carl was only 19 years old, so they charged him with possession of marijuana, HS 11357. Because they suspected the candies in his mouth were also infused, they charged him with PC 135 for attempting to eat the evidence. 

In this case, the police officers had no probable cause for stopping and searching Carl, nor did they offer any justifiable reason. Essentially, this would be considered an illegal stop and his lawyer was able to get the charges dismissed.

Illegal Search and Seizure

California has strict search and seizure laws, especially concerning search warrants. If law enforcement exceeds the limits of a search warrant, any evidence they find could be considered inadmissible.

Carlos, for instance, was under investigation for receiving stolen goods, PC 496. Law enforcement was able to get a legal search warrant for his business. When they found nothing incriminating, they got frustrated and decided to go to his home. The warrant only specified they could search the business, not his residence. Carlos was able to text his wife, asking her to hide any items that would be considered evidence. The detectives decided to charge both Carlos and his wife with PC 135.

This case is a prime example of law enforcement exceeding the limits of their search warrants. Carlos’s home was illegally searched and any items seized would be deemed inadmissible because the warrant only covered the business.

If you recognize your case fits any of these examples, be sure to get the help of an expert criminal defense lawyer. The right defense attorney will be familiar with these common defenses and understands what route must be taken to achieve the most desirable results.

Penalties for PC 135

If convicted of destroying or concealing evidence, you face a:

Misdemeanor;

A potential county jail sentence of up to one year, and/or

As much as one thousand dollars in fines.

Enhanced Penalties

Punishments can be compounded if multiple offenses are in play. This can often be the case in situations where a criminal investigation was already in progress.

Example:

Dennis was facing charges for PC 136.1, intimidating a witness. The witness, Chandra, was going to testify against him for HS 11352, selling illegal controlled substances. He had destroyed most of the drugs in his home and had threatened her if she did not retract her statements about his illegal activities.

On top of the penalties he faces for selling drugs, HS 11352 and intimidating a witness, PC 136.1, he will still face additional penalties for PC 135, destroying evidence. This means his incarceration time, fines, and any probationary conditions will be increased.

Penalties for Associated Offenses

California Penal Code 132 - making false written statements;

Felony;

As long as three years in a California state prison, or

Formal (felony) probation.

California Penal Code 134 - preparing false evidence;

Felony;

A potential three-year sentence in state prison, or

Formal (felony) probation.

California Penal Code 136.1 - dissuading or intimidating a witness;

Misdemeanor;

As long as three years in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

A potential four-year state prison sentence, and/or

Fines as high as ten-thousand dollars.

California Penal Code 141 - planting evidence;

Misdemeanor;

As long as six months in county jail, and/or

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

California Penal Code 148 - resisting or obstructing a police officer;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail,

A possible one-thousand dollar fine, and/or

Summary (informal) probation.

Let Us Help

Are you located in San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles and need legal advice? Are you or someone you care about facing any of the aforementioned offenses? Consider the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum. Fighting obstruction of justice charges is particularly challenging and Attorney Yum understands this.

As a former prosecutor, Attorney Yum knows how difficult the legal fight can be to maintain your freedom, especially when the odds are stacked against you. If you are accused of destroying evidence or any of the related offenses, we can help.

Contact us today for more information. You can use our online contact form or call us at 619-233-4433 to schedule your no-obligation, free consultation.

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