Governor David Paterson’s political career appears to be nearing its end, as he officially announced he will not be running for reelection.But as The New York Times continues to unveil reports of Paterson and his staffs’ involvement in a criminal case in which a Paterson aide was accused of domestic violence, the more pressing question for Paterson may be if he will face criminal charges relating to witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
The New York Times reported yesterday that Paterson instructed his press secretary “to ask the woman to publicly describe the episode as nonviolent.” The NYT also reported that Paterson asked another state employee “to make contact with the woman before she was due in court to finalise an order of protection against the aide, David W. Johnson” and that the governor himself had a conversation with the woman, who failed to appear for a February 8 court hearing, after which the case was dropped.
“These accounts,” the NYT said, “provide the first evidence that Mr. Paterson helped direct an effort to influence the accuser.”
A person can be charged with witness tampering under New York law if, knowing that a person is about to be called to testify and he “wrongfully induces or attempts to induce” the person not to testify or not to appear at the proceeding. If the induction does not involve a threat of physical harm, it is a misdemeanour offence.
A person can be charged with obstructing a proceeding under New York law if he “intentionally obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law…by means of intimidation,” physical force or interference or any other independently unlawful act.” Such behaviour is also a misdemeanour offence.
Both of these offence are very fact specific, and exactly what Governor Patterson said and directed others to do will be very important. It’s also important to note that, with obstruction, the alleged perpetrator must intend to obstruct the proceeding.
Ben Smith at Politico spoke to Columbia professor and former federal prosecutor Daniel Richman, who said, “”Although the issue of intent is always critical in obstruction cases, the Times story lays out a scenario that a prosecutor might well take a hard look at.”
Criminal defence attorney David Roche told Smith that Paterson’s behaviour, or at least that reported by the NYT was “inappropriate,” “creates the appearance that this witness was being tampered with” and that prosecutors “definitely have to consider” bringing charges.
Last week, Paterson asked New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to look into the governor’s office’s handling of the the situation.
It looks like there will be no shortage of things to explore.
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