Tampering, as a crime, is harshly punished in the American judicial system, capable of standing as a felony on its own. Why a person tampers another’s food, drink, drugs, or similar products is mostly a mystery of the criminal mind, and could be any number of reasons. While some look to cause mild injury or discomfort to spite friends or family members, tampering with consumer products can often lead to more disastrous results, and could potentially result in a jail sentence.
Tampering with evidence, or evidence tampering, is an act in which a person alters, conceals, falsifies, or destroys evidence with the intent to interfere with an investigation (usually) by a law-enforcement, governmental, or regulatory authority. It is a criminal offense in many jurisdictions.
Tampering with evidence is closely related to the legal issue of spoliation of evidence, which is usually the civil law or due process version of the same concept (but may itself be a crime). Tampering with evidence is also closely related to obstruction of justice and perverting the course of justice, and these two kinds of crimes are often charged together. The goal of tampering with evidence is usually to cover up a crime.
By law enforcement
When police confiscate and destroy a citizen’s photographs or recordings of officers’ misconduct, the police’s act of destroying the evidence may be prosecuted as an act of evidence tampering, if the recordings being destroyed are potential evidence in a criminal or regulatory investigation of the officers themselves. In a notable case in Nebraska, officers were charged with the felonycharge of evidence tampering, as well as misdemeanor obstruction and theft, when they committed brutality and forcibly stole and destroyed the recordings, which was exposed due to a third party’s recording. On the other hand, when police departments lose exonerating evidence that would create reasonable doubt for defendants in the cases they prosecute, such as dashboard-camera footage from patrol cars, it may be regarded as spoliation of evidence, potentially justifying motions to dismiss and/or mistrials. Police’s loss of evidence such as footage may be considered as both spoliation and tampering, if it both exonerates the defendant and proves police misconduct. Spoliation of exonerating evidence in criminal cases may also constitute prosecutorial misconduct if the prosecutor is complicit in doing so.
Some pranks are easily construed as tampering. Putting additional ingredients into food, such as laxatives or illegal substances, can be severely punished. Tampering with drinks, including with ingredients like GHB or rohypnol, can be compounded with other charges.
The law only mildly distinguishes between what would be considered a prank and what would be considered a truly harmful act. In the end, the truly important factor in sentencing is not the intent, but the actual results. Injury caused by tampering can upgrade the crime from a felony in the second degree to a felony in the first degree. This means that even a seemingly harmless prank, if gone wrong, can lead to a jail sentence.
Threatening to tamper with someone’s food or drink is also treated as a particularly contemptible crime under the penal code. By issuing a threat to alter a person’s food or drink, a person can be found guilty of a felony in the third degree. Even though this is the lightest of tampering charges, it is still a felony. Those convicted of a felony face heightened sentences, social and professional stigmas, and a loss of the right to vote.