Tampering With Witness On Facebook And YouTube: Posting “Snitches Get Stitches” Constitutes Witness Tampering
People v. Horton
New York Court of Appeals
2014 NY Slip Op 07088
Decided on: October 21, 2014
Using Facebook And YouTube To Tamper With A Witness
Blog By: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer
Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence to show that Defendant attempted to prevent a confidential informant from testifying where Defendant posted video surveillance of a drug bust on Facebook and YouTube, which identified the confidential informant and caused a flurry of discussion on Facebook denouncing the informant as a snitch.
Summary: Defendant’s best friend Jackson was arrested and charged with a drug sale. During that videotaped drug sale, a confidential informant wired with a microphone arranged a meeting with Defendant and Jackson, bought a quantity of cocaine from Jackson where he was later arrested.
Defendant uploaded a clip of the surveillance video on YouTube and provided a link on his Facebook page denouncing the confidential informant. The confidential informant reported Defendant to the investigators and he was arrested for witness tampering, tried, and convicted and sentenced to one year in jail.
On Appeal, Defendant argues that there was insufficient evidence that he had any knowledge the confidential informant was about to testify. The Court of Appeals affirmed sating that there was sufficient evidence to show that Defendant knew that the informant would testify and that he wrongfully sought to stop her from doing so.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant committed witness tampering because Defendant’s best friend was charged with a drug sale and he knew that the confidential informant had worked with police to secure that charge.
A person is guilty of tampering with a witness when, knowing that a person is or is about to be called as a witness in an action or proceeding, he wrongfully induces or attempts to induce such person to absent himself from, or otherwise to avoid or seek to avoid appearing or testifying at, such action or proceeding Penal Law 215.10
Facts: Investigators planned a controlled, recorded drug purchase. They recruited a young woman, the confidential informant, to make the actual buy. The confidential informant was wired with a microphone and a camera was concealed in the back seat of her car to videotape. She arranged a meeting with Defendant Horton and his best friend Jackson where Jackson sold her a quantity of cocaine, a transaction captured by the hidden camera and recorded by the wire.
Jackson was arrested and went to Horton’s house with a copy of the videotape. Horton uploaded a clip of the surveillance video to YouTube and posted a link to it on his Facebook page, identifying her as an informant. Many statements were made by Defendant and others denouncing snitches in general and the confidential informant, including warnings that “snitches get stitches” and “I hope she gets what’s coming to her.”
The confidential informant contacted one of the investigators and charged Defendant with witness tampering. Defendant was tried in Town Court and convicted as charged. Defendant appealed to County Court, arguing that there was insufficient evidence that he attempted to prevent the confidential informant from testifying; that motion was denied and County Court affirmed.
Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals where the Court held that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant had knowledge that his best friend was charged with a drug sale, and knew that the confidential informant had worked with the police to secure that charge. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that the evidence, seen in light most favorable to the People, is sufficient to establish that Defendant knew that the confidential informant might testify in a proceeding.
Penal Law 215.10 states that a person is guilty of tampering with a witness when, knowing that a person is or is about to be called as a witness in an action or proceeding, he wrongfully induces or attempts to induce such person to absent himself from, or otherwise to avoid or seek to avoid appearing or testifying at, such action or proceeding.
Here, after Defendant learned about his best friend Jackson’s arrest and the confidential informant’s role as a witness against Jackson, Defendant immediately posted statements on the internet that the jury might have reasonably inferred were “coded threats” that were intended to induce the confidential informant not to testify. The Defendant made Facebook posts identifying the confidential informant and the confidential informant was able to see these posts and the comments from other Facebook users that the posts generated.
The Court of Appeals held that in addition to the public postings on Facebook and YouTube, Defendant was in contact via Facebook messages with the confidential informant and her mother.
Thus, the Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant knew the confidential informant might testify in a proceeding, and that he wrongfully sought to stop her from doing so. The Court of Appeals affirmed.