Retaliating Against a Witness

Both Florida law and federal law prohibit retaliation against a witness or victim in an official proceeding. In these prosecutions, it is not always necessary for the prosecution to prove that the defendant had the intent to communicate the threat directly to the witness.

Additionally, it is not always necessary for the prosecution to prove that the defendant actually had the intent to carry out the threat. The law does require, however, that the threat involves an act of bodily harm or damaging property.

These cases often involve a threat to commit some form of assault, battery, or criminal mischief. Crimes for retaliating against a witness also require proof that the threat was made to retaliate against the witness or victim for attending any official proceeding.

The language in the statute is so broad that it can also include retaliation for giving testimony, evidence, or information to law enforcement about the possible commission of a crime.

Under § 794.011(1)(f), the term “retaliation” includes, but is not limited to, threats of future physical punishment, kidnapping, false imprisonment or forcible confinement, or extortion.

This article explains the requirements for the crime of retaliation against a witness or victim under Section 914.23 under Florida law.

Attorney for Witness Retaliation Charges in Florida

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients charged with tampering with a witness or retaliating against a witness throughout the greater Tampa Bay. Our main office is located in downtown Tampa. We also have a second office in New Port Richey, FL, directly across from the courthouse.

We are experienced in fighting serious felony cases involving allegations of obstruction of justice in the courtrooms in Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, in New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, in Brooksville in Hernando County, in Clearwater and St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, and in Bartow and Winter Haven in Polk County, FL.

If you are charged with a crime or under investigation, you should hire an attorney as early in the process as possible. If the victim or witness tries to contact you, you should walk away and immediately contact your attorney.

In some cases, the court will impose a “no contact” provision that expressly prevents you from having contact with the victim or specific witnesses in the case. But if the court has not done so, you should still be careful not to have contact with the alleged victim in the case.

To avoid these types of charges, avoid any conversation with any witness about their testimony. You should leave the investigation of the case up to your attorney or a private investigator.

Florida Statute Section 914.23 prohibits retaliating against a witness, victim, or informant. These crimes usually involve threats to cause bodily injury to the victim or damage their property.

Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss our case.

Call (813) 250-0500.

Penalties for Witness Retaliation under Section 914.23

Under Section 914.23, F.S., the crime of witness retaliation is typically charged as a third-degree felony which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If the conduct results in bodily injury, then the crime is charged as a felony of the second degree which is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.

In other words, pursuant to § 914.23, Fla. Stat., the defendant is guilty of a second-degree felony only if the victim suffered bodily injury as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Otherwise, the defendant is guilty of a third-degree felony. Therefore, a specific finding of bodily injury caused by the defendant is necessary if the more serious version of the statute is alleged.

Pursuant to Administrative Order S-2021-025 entered on April 20, 2021, if you are arrested for Retaliating Against a Witness under § 914.23, Fla. Stat., you will not be released on a bail bond before your first appearance hearing.

Instead, the judge presiding at the first appearance hearing (sometimes called the “advisory hearing” or “PP court”) will determine the appropriate amount of bail bond. At the first appearance, the court will also decide any pre-trial release conditions such as having no contact with the witness.

Elements of Crimes for Retaliating Against a Witness

Florida law prohibits a person from retaliating or attempting to retaliate against a witness, victim, informant, or confidential informant in Section 914.23. The elements of the crime require proof that:

  • The defendant acted knowingly;
    • attempted, threatened to cause bodily injury to the victim or damaged the tangible property of the victim;
    • caused bodily injury to the victim or damage to the tangible property of the victim;
  • The defendant did so, with intent to retaliate against any person for:
    • the attendance of a witness or party at an official proceeding;
    • any testimony given or record, document, or object produced by a witness in an official proceeding;
    • information given by a person to a law enforcement officer relating to the commission or possible commission of an offense or a violation of a condition of probation, parole, or release pending a judicial proceeding.

One of the best ways to understand the elements of the witness retaliation statute is to read the standard jury instruction for the crime that were first adopted in 2013.

Definitions in Florida Witness Retaliation Statute

The term “attempt” is defined using Florida Jury Instructions found in 5.1, if appropriate. Under § 914.21(1), Fla. Stat., the term “bodily injury” means any injury to the body, no matter how temporary, including:

  • a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn, or disfigurement;
  • physical pain; illness;
  • impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.

Under § 914.21(4), Fla. Stat., the term “official proceeding” means:

  • A proceeding before a judge or court or a grand jury;
  • A proceeding before the Legislature;
  • A proceeding before a federal agency that is authorized by law; or
  • A proceeding before the Commission on Ethics.

The possible lesser included offenses of attempting retaliation against a witness, victim, or informant under Section 914.23 include:

  • Aggravated Battery under 784.045;
  • Felony Battery under 784.041;
  • Battery under 784.03;
  • Aggravated Assault under 784.021;
  • Assault under 784.011; or
  • Criminal Mischief under 806.13.

Other crimes related to obstruction of justice include the following crimes:

  • Section 836.05 for extortion;
  • Chapter 837 for perjury;
  • Chapter 838 for bribery and misuse of public office;
  • Chapter 843 for obstruction of justice;
  • Sections 914.22 for tampering with a witness, victim, or informant; and
  • Sections 918.12 and 918.13 for tampering with jurors and evidence.

Additional Resources

Florida Statute Section 914.23 – Visit the website of the Florida Senate to find out more about criminal penalties regarding the treatment of witnesses including prohibitions against tampering with a witness or retaliating against a witness. Find definitions for the term “official proceeding” and “bodily harm.” The statute also lists the penalties for this offense depending on whether any bodily harm actually occurred. Find information on lesser offenses including battery, assault, and criminal mischief.

This article was last updated on Friday, June 4, 2021.