Tampering With Evidence in Florida (by Swallowing It)

In State v. Jennings, 666 So. 2d 131 (Fla. 1995), law enforcement officers observed Jennings holding what they believed to be a marijuana cigarette. As one of the officers approached Jennings, he observed what he believed to be loose cocaine rocks in one of Jennings' hands. The officer shouted "police," at which time Jennings tossed the rocks into his mouth and swallowed them. Jennings began to choke and the officer took hold of Jennings who broke away and took several steps before he was arrested. The objects Jennings swallowed were never recovered. The trial court dismissed the tampering count, relying on prior precedent that tossing evidence away in the presence of a law enforcement officer does not constitute tampering under Florida's statute. The Florida Supreme Court reversed the trial court decision, holding that "an affirmative act of throwing evidence away constitutes more than mere abandonment," and that "swallowing an object clearly constitutes altering, destroying, concealing, or removing a 'thing' within the meaning of the statute." Jennings, 666 So. 2d at 133. The court rejected the conclusion of the intermediate appellate court that a police officer "shouting 'police' was insufficient, as a matter of law, to put Jennings on notice that he was about to be investigated for the possession of illegal drugs." Id. Having determined that the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find the knowledge requirement was satisfied, the court remanded because "reasonable persons could differ as to whether Jennings possessed the requisite knowledge under the statute" that an investigation was about to be commenced. Id. at 134.