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De Facto Witness Tampering

Posted: 24 Jul 2012 Last revised: 1 Apr 2013

Sarah M. Buel

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

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Date Written: July 23, 2012


De facto witness tampering matters because it fuels increased victim disengagement and danger, and its omission from discourse animates much regressive case law. Although present statutes address the most virulent and direct manifestations of witness tampering (WT), they miss the nuanced, less overt, but still dangerous conduct that achieves the same unlawful ends. Many perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) and human trafficking (HT) are exceptionally resourceful in their efforts to prevent victims from testifying against them, necessitating the expansion of remedial statutory schemes to recognize de facto witness tampering.

After briefly examining the doctrinal and normative aspects of de facto witness tampering, the Article describes the concept in practice, including tipping point tampering such as victim grooming, financial sabotage, and cyber harassment. Integration of human rights doctrine must be part of instrumental reform as criminalization of de facto WT comports with internationally recognized norms of state obligations to victims of gendered violence. Because IPV-HT offenders are not likely to admit their intent to silence witnesses, it is necessary to promulgate a presumptive intent standard that focuses on result. To that end, I propose a rebuttable presumption of intent to silence a victim when a court finds that a person committed an IPV-HT act as part of pattern of coercive control. The Rule of Law maxim must mean that abuse survivors’ civil and human rights are protected by criminalizing the full scope of WT conduct.

Keywords: witness tampering, intimate partner violence, human trafficking, human rights

Suggested Citation

Buel, Sarah M., De Facto Witness Tampering (July 23, 2012). Available at SSRN:

Sarah M. Buel (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States

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