A bill that would increase penalties for evidence tampering in capital felony cases sailed through its final committee in the House Wednesday and is now ready for the House floor.
The bill (HB 287), introduced by Rep. Sam Garrison of Clay County, would make tampering with or fabricating evidence a second-degree felony if done in a criminal trial, proceeding or investigation relating to felonies.
Currently, it’s a third-degree felony to tamper with evidence in all cases, and the law does not distinguish between tampering with evidence in murder cases and lesser offenses, such as possession of marijuana.
Expectations are that enhanced penalties would lead to more convictions on the charge. A staff analysis of a similar bill filed for the 2021 Session asserted a potential “positive indeterminate impact on prison beds by increasing the felony degrees and penalties for tampering with or fabricating physical evidence in specified cases.”
Garrison, who was a prosecutor for years in the 4th Judicial Circuit, told the Judiciary Committee the change would align the bill with the current perjury statute and close a longstanding loophole in the law.
The Florida Prosecutors Association waived in support, as the group did in previous committees, and the legislation moved through its final committee by a unanimous 20-0 vote. The bill has only gotten one no vote across three committees.
A version of this legislation is moving through Senate committees as well.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a companion bill (SB 796). Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley is sponsoring that legislation, which still has two committee stops ahead.
Evidence tampering made headlines in Northeast Florida last year after the murder of a teenage girl in St. Johns County. The suspect’s mother was charged with attempting to scrub the murder victim’s blood out of her son’s jeans, and despite the seriousness of the crime, only a third-degree felony charge is being pursued.