EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Court of Appeals of Utah Finds That Evidence Tampering is a Crime of Dishonesty or False Statement

Similar to its federal counterpart, Utah Rule of Evidence 609(a)(2) provides that

[F]or any crime regardless of the punishment, the evidence [of a prior conviction] must be admitted if the court can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime required proving — or the witness’s admitting — a dishonest act or false statement.

So, does a conviction for evidence tampering qualify as a crime with a dishonest act or false statement? That was the question addressed by the Court of Appeals of Utah in its recent opinion in State v. York, 2018 WL 2276129 (Utah App. 2018).

In York, Terrell York was charged with obstruction of justice after allegedly lying to an officer about her knowledge of the whereabouts of her boyfriend, who had an active warrant for his arrest. At trial,

Boyfriend was the sole witness for the defense. Boyfriend testified that, on the evening in question, he had been near the river and observed the police talking to York and her friend as he approached the campsite. He stated that he snuck into the trailer when the officer talking to York and York's friend walked back to the patrol vehicle and that he did this to hide from the police because of the warrant for his arrest. Boyfriend claimed he could not see York when he snuck into the trailer, thereby suggesting that she did not see him at that time. He testified that he was in the trailer approximately three to five minutes before he was discovered.

The prosecution thereafter impeached Boyfriend with his conviction for evidence tampering under Utah Rule of Evidence 609(a)(2).

After she was convicted, York appealed, claiming that evidence of this conviction was inadmissible under Rule 609(a)(2). The Court of Appeals of Utah disagreed, noting that, under Utah law,

A person is guilty of tampering with evidence if, believing that an official proceeding or investigation is pending or about to be instituted, or with the intent to prevent an official proceeding or investigation or to prevent the production of any thing or item which reasonably would be anticipated to be evidence in the official proceeding or investigation, the person knowingly or intentionally: (a) alters, destroys, conceals, or removes any thing or item with the purpose of impairing the veracity or availability of the thing or item in the proceeding or investigation....

The court then held that

In our view, this crime requires the State to prove that the offender committed an act “of untruthfulness, deceit, or falsification”—in other words, a dishonest act.... Acts of deception or falsification are affirmative actions intended to mislead others from the truth. See Deception, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (“The act of deliberately causing someone to believe that something is true when the actor knows it to be false.”); Falsify, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (“To make deceptive; to counterfeit, forge, or misrepresent; esp., to tamper with (a document, record, etc.) by interlineation, obliteration, or some other means[.]”)....

To prove that a person has tampered with evidence, the State must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that, with requisite belief or intent as to the investigation, the person knowingly or intentionally altered, destroyed, concealed, or removed an item germane to an investigation for the express purpose of misleading investigators as to the status—either veracity or availability—of that particular item....A person committing this offense therefore commits a quintessentially dishonest act; any of the specific actions taken by a perpetrator of this crime—altering, destroying, concealing, or removing an item—are done with the goal to deceive investigators about a statutorily salient aspect of the item itself



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Re Adnan Syed’s case, how does this relate to 1. Prosecuting investigator misconduct (for instance threattening Jay, possibly car etc.) and 2. Probable misleading or manufacturing of “evidence” by Don’s mother? The first might be difficult to prove, the second might be easier; even if Don did not kill Hae, manufactured evidence perverted the investigation (if not Adnan, who?). There may be other instances, though a competent prosecutor interested in investigating the issue would be key.

Posted by: Hal | Jun 10, 2018 10:32:58 AM

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