Under Tennessee Code Annotated 39-16-503, it is a C Felony to tamper with evidence. The statute defines tampering with evidence as altering, destroying, or concealing any record, document or thing with intent to impair its verity, legibility, or availability as evidence in the investigation or official proceeding. Based on a cursory reading of the statute, it would seem like briefly placing a bag of marijuana in one’s mouth during a traffic stop would constitute tampering with evidence because it is concealing a thing with the intent to impair its availability as evidence in an investigation.
However, as the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals made clear, this is not always the case. In State v. Linsey, the appellate court reversed a tampering with evidence conviction where the defendant briefly put a bag of marijuana in his mouth during a traffic stop but spit it out in plain view after the officer asked if he had marijuana. The court noted that the bag was not altered or destroyed. Moreover, the investigation was delayed minimally, if at all. Therefore, the evidence was insufficient to sustain a tampering with evidence conviction.
Nonetheless, the defendant did not get off scot-free. The court of criminal appeals found that the evidence was sufficient to sustain a simple possession conviction. Still, simple possession carries a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days, while tampering with evidence carries a sentence between 3 and 15 years, depending on a defendant’s classification. I bet the defendant is happy he spit quick or he would have had a much harder pill to swallow.
State v. Linsey, No. M2015-01851-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 27, 2016)