A raft of 10 bills received and signed Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis includes a measure that would impose harsher penalties for people tampering with evidence in violent felony cases.
HB 287, carried by Rep. Sam Garrison in the House and Sen. Jennifer Bradley in the Senate as SB 796, will make tampering with or fabricating evidence a second-degree felony if done in a criminal trial, proceeding, or investigation relating to capital felonies.
The measure will take effect Oct. 1.
This legislation could bring a meaningful change to criminal investigations in capital felony cases. The bill would affect capital crimes specifically, bringing the evidence-tampering statute in line with the perjury statute, closing what former prosecutor Garrison has called a “long-standing loophole” in the law.
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 and other capital felony cases and lesser offenses, such as possession of marijuana.
Expectations are that enhanced penalties would lead to more severe penalties 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.”
Dozens of inmates are sentenced every year for tampering with evidence already. In Fiscal Year 2019-20, 57 inmates were convicted on that charge, with 68 convicted of evidence tampering the previous year.
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.
On top of the 10 measure signed by the Governor, lawmakers delivered DeSantis 10 other bills Tuesday, including legislation extending VISIT FLORIDA for five years.