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How California Penal Code § 135 PC Works

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on April 20, 2023

  • 135. A person who, knowing that any book, paper, record, instrument in writing, digital image, video recording owned by another, or matter or thing, is about to be produced in evidence upon a trial, inquiry, or investigation, authorized by law, willfully destroys, erases, or conceals the same, with the intent to prevent it or its content from being produced is guilty of a misdemeanor.

In the movies, a businessman about to be audited calls his secretary and tells her to start shredding papers, or a mobster sets fire to a warehouse of stolen goods when he hears the cops are on their way. Both these examples of destroying evidence are crimes defined by California Penal Code 135. And in reality, they are generally fruitless efforts that only compound any other criminal charges that might be filed.

It is unlikely that the papers being shredded are the only copies in existence, and they are almost certainly recoverable from computer hard drives and servers. Similarly at the warehouse an investigation likely includes multiple forms of evidence of stolen property – photos, emails or text communications, financial records, or witness accounts. It is not uncommon for defendants to be convicted of destroying evidence that would not have been decisive in the investigation or trial. It also creates a perception of guilt. Contacting a team of strong defense attorneys with experience in criminal and civil case law who can advise you immediately is the smart way to address investigations.

Defenses Against Charges of Destroying Evidence

There are three important factors of code 135 that must be established by the prosecutor.

1.) That the defendant “willfully and knowingly” destroyed the evidence.

Willfully meaning that it was not an accident but done intentionally.

Knowingly meaning that the defendant was aware it was evidence.

2.) That there was a current investigation, trial, civil suit underway when the evidence was destroyed.

3.) That the object destroyed was actually evidence.

If after a night of drinking, you find several photos and videos of you and your friends partying on your phone you might decide to delete them. However, if you knew that one of those friends had been involved in an accident or pulled over for a DUI after those photos were taken and then deleted them, you could be charged with knowingly and willfully destroying evidence. A skillful attorney will attempt to prove that you could not have been aware beyond a reasonable doubt that the material destroyed was evidence or that there was a current investigation.

Other defenses include that there was no ongoing investigation at the time the material was destroyed, or that the material was not actually evidence.

If You Are the Subject of an Investigation, Get the Help You Need.

Destroying evidence to conceal a crime that was committed by you or by someone else is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Rather than incriminating yourself, family, friends, or colleagues in what will look like a “cover up” by destroying evidence, call an experienced team of attorneys who can build a strong defense Werksman Jackson & Quinn, LLP at (213) 688-0460. Mark Werksman is a former Deputy District Attorney and former Assistant United States Attorney who has been practicing criminal law since 1986. Alan Jackson is a former prosecutor and Assistant Head Deputy for the Major Crimes Division at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Let their experience give you the advantage.


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Posted in: Criminal Law