Tampering with Physical Evidence

Statements by Defendant – Establishment of Corpus Deliciti

For anyone who might be faced with this charge, this case might be very beneficial to read. It’s a very recent case out of the Second District Court of Appeal (See 2DCA 2756a in the Publication entitled Florida Law Weekly) – Reinlein v. State.

In the case, the Defendant was suspected of buying narcotics in a transaction from his pickup truck. Officers had observed two individuals in an alley pacing back and forth. The Defendant was seen entering the alley and making contact with one of the men there. Police then watched his truck drive away within seconds of making contact. Officer believed a drug was made but did not see anything change hands – they only saw the Defendant (the driver of the truck) make contact with the men in the alley and drive away shortly thereafter.

Officers followed the Defendant’s truck and pulled him over for a traffic violation not long after. The Defendant was the only occupant of the truck. When they pulled him over, officers saw the Defendant “throw” something into his mouth, chew it around and then swallow it. After being read his Miranda rights, the Defendant admitted to going into the alley to buy the crack cocaine for $10. He admitted to swallowing it as well to get rid of the evidence. This admission would normally be devastating to most criminal cases. However, not so in this case. Not under these circumstances.

You see, in order to prove the charge of tampering with physical evidence the State must prove that you intended to alter, destroy, conceal, or remove something that is the object of an investigation. If the officers had stopped the Defendant in this case during the transaction and yelled, “Stop! Police!” whereupon the Defendant then popped the cocaine into his mouth, that might be enough to prove the case. But here, the Defendant was pulled over for a traffic infraction. And apart from his admission, the State offered no physical evidence that the Defendant knew that what he was destroying was the object of the investigation. Without the Defendant’s admission, the State cannot prove the body of their case in chief (or the corpus delicti). So the State cannot be allowed to use the Defendant’s admission against him. The Defendant was convicted at trial but that conviction was later reversed by the Court of Appeals! The trial court should have granted the defense’s motion for judgment of acquittal.


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