The prosecution's case depends on certain key witnesses' testimony in order to get a successful conviction. Or, all the evidence is already in place and all that's left is for the jury to say that the person is guilty. But — out of nowhere, a witness changes his/her testimony or refuses to testify at all, or the jury either gives an unexpected verdict or becomes deadlocked on what's supposed to be an open-and-shut case. What just happened?!?
Turns out the witness was approached outside the courtroom by the defendant, or a representative of the defendant, and was coerced into changing his/her story or not showing up to testify, either through monetary offerings or threats to the witness or their loved ones. In the case of the jury, it may be that at least one member was similarly approached and "persuaded" to sway his/her fellow jurors in a direction more favorable to the defendant.
What we have here, then, is Jury and Witness Tampering, a convention that's common in many a Police Procedural and Law Procedural show, with subsequent investigation by the police involved in the case revealing that this trope was in effect outside their (and the viewer's) knowledge till well after the fact.
A Common Nonsense Jury may be created because of this. A Rogue Juror may have this as his/her reason for going against the grain (not all the time, though). If this trope results in a witness testimony being changed or is part of a larger Frameup plot, that may result in an innocent person going to jail.
In real life, witness tampering is a criminal offense that falls under obstruction of justice; plus, when witnesses lie about crucial details or outright change their testimony while on the stand, in legal terms that's called committing perjury, and can likewise result in jail time regardless of the reason. Where juries are concerned, this trope is why prospective jurors are warned not to discuss the case outside the courtroom for the case's duration, why their identities are kept secret, and why they're warned not to utilize any information other than what's presented to them in court for the purpose of deliberation. (If outside information is given to a juror to help influence a verdict, the case will result in a mistrial.) This is a particularly huge problem in domestic violence cases; witnesses suddenly recanting or turning uncooperative after previously being highly consistent and cooperative is a very regular phenomenon there, and the usual assumption when it happens is that the accused called, messaged, or otherwise found a way to contact the witness and cajoled or threatened them into silence.
Compare He Knows Too Much, when the defendants or their associates take the direct route and kill the witnesses as opposed to merely bribing or intimidating them. Contrast Kangaroo Court, where everything about the case — including the witnesses and the jury — is deliberately geared toward convicting a defendant regardless of his/her innocence or guilt, and Joker Jury, where the jurors deliberately consist of the hero's enemies. For regular old jury service, see Jury Duty.
Note: witnesses perjuring themselves or backing out of testifying, or jurors initiating the swaying of their fellow jurors, for any reason other than previous outside provocation, is NOT this trope.
- In L'Enquête Corse (The Corsican case), all jury members in a trial have received threatening letters from one side or the other. One of them claims he's still impartial because he received threats from both.
- Happens with depressing regularity in Diabolik. Particularly egregious in the instance of "The Witness": mob boss Diego Parker has intimidated a witness and is about to walk away again when our titular Villain Protagonist walks in disguised as a witness against Parker in a previous trial for a robbery ended in a massacre, a witness dismissed because Parker's attempt to kill him before that trial had blinded him, declares he reacquired his sight and accuses him of that robbery. That was because Parker had decided to get the witness killed just in case... Except the guy had recently befriended Diabolik, who decided to take revenge for the (failed) attack on his friend that way.
- The Flash: One story features the ghost of a convicted murderer going after the jurors who convicted him. He turns out to be innocent and the real killer bribed the jury. The ghost is a juror who eventually came to regret the deal.
- The Belgian comic Rubine has a company on trial for poisoning a town kidnap the jury's children under the pretense of sending them to a vacation camp guarded by armed mercenaries. The title protagonist rescues the kids and bursts into the courtroom just as the forewoman is about to declare their verdict. The company is declared guilty, but the last panel shows they'd actually gone with "not guilty" out of fear for their kids.
- The 1996 film The Juror, starring Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin, has Baldwin's character, a mob boss, try to sway Moore's character, a juror in his trial, through his enforcer pretending to be her suitor.
- Implied in The Phenix City Story. After the jury acquits mobster Clem Wilson of the murder of Fred Gage by ruling the death accidental, John snarls that they're scared to death, to which Al replies that one can hardly blame them.
- In Runaway Jury, Rankin Fitch is a jury consultant who specializes in getting his clients their desired verdict through any means necessary, even resorting to blackmail and violence. It's eventually revealed that a third party is also attempting to influence the jury's decision through less devious means.
- Suspect: Judge Helms correctly suspects that Kathleen and Eddie are illegally in contact, but can't prove it. They avoid being caught by him in the law library, but he sequesters the jury to prevent anything further, which forces Eddie to sneak out of the hotel. If this came out, they could be charged, and Kathleen might be disbarred or sanctioned. However, as Judge Helms is the murderer, no one's likely to really care that much, as they're small fry in comparison.
- Happens at the end of The Untouchables (1987), when Al Capone bribes all the jurors in his tax-dodging trial to acquit him Elliot Ness smells something fishy with the trial and asks the judge to switch the juries. He even puts some pressure on the judge, on a hunch that he's also been bribed, and the plan pays off, but only because of Artistic License Law. A judge can't simply switch juries with another courtroom, as the new jury wouldn't know the facts of the case. The likeliest outcome would be a mistrial, and the judge may even be disrobed. In addition, Capone's attorney changes his client's plea to "guilty" without even consulting him, which is likely to get the lawyer disbarred and has no legal standing since the defendant would have to confirm the plea.
- Artistic License Law indeed. In real life, what happened is that Judge Wilkerson switched the jury POOL last minute before Voir Dire (jury selection) had begun, because of suspicion some members of the pool had been bribed. This was legal because the trial itself hadn't started yet.
- The John Grisham novel The Runaway Jury, and the movie based on it, has this as part of its main plot, to coerce or incapacitate the jurors in a lawsuit against tobacco companies for the plaintiff's husband's death from lung cancer (in The Film of the Book, it's a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer for gross negligence leading to the plaintiff's husband's death from an office shooting).
- The trope also appears in The Rainmaker and its film adaptation, in the form of a complicated scheme to get a potential juror who is unsympathetic to the protagonist's case dismissed from the jury pool.
- In the third book of The Rami Johnson Trilogy, A Time to Say Goodbye, Big Bad Jake Hibbertson tries to coerce a key witness in his brother's assault trial to recant his earlier police statement that he saw the brother attack a young boy unprovoked. It doesn't work, though, as the witness gets served a subpoena that'll essentially force him to be at court to give his testimony anyway.
- In the Honor Harrington book Field of Dishonor, three of the six officers serving as panel judges (the military equivalent of a jury) during Pavel Young's court-martial are either invested in his father's political faction or present in said father's voluminous blackmail files. This results in Admiral Hemphill offering a deal where Young is convicted of every charge that doesn't carry a death sentence, with the verdict given as a "hung jury" on the others.
- In the Michael Connelly mystery novel The Brass Verdict, one of the jurors is an impostor, paid by the accused to assume the identity of a juror in order to have at least one guaranteed Not Guilty vote.
- Both types happen very frequently throughout the different Law & Order series.
- A noteworthy instance of witness tampering from Season 4 of the original series is in the episode "Old Friends," where a witness commits perjury while testifying against a member of the Russian mob, then later refuses to testify to the truth because she's been threatened. She eventually does tell the truth, but shortly afterward is murdered. This causes prosecutor Ben Stone to quit the DA's office.
- One example of jury tampering is the episode "Hubris," where a defendant, acting as his own lawyer at his trial for killing a woman, kept zeroing in on one of the female jurors every time he stood up to give an argument. It's later revealed that he'd actually approached her outside the courtroom prior to the verdict, and he'd sweet-talked her and convinced her of his innocence. He really was guilty, and later dumped the juror after being acquitted...and she was later forced to kill him in self-defense.
- In an episode of SVU, a couple sues their dead daughter's lesbian partner for custody of their granddaughter, saying that she's molesting her, and little girl's testimony apparently confirms their suspicions. It turns out that they were convinced to sue, and that the girl was fed lines, by the homophobic prosecutor as part of his plot to "prove" that gays are unfit to be parents.
- The Sopranos: Corrado Soprano Jr. persuades a juror not to deliver a guilty verdict against him by having his assistant Bobby threaten the safety of the juror's family.
- Sherlock: Moriarty blackmails several jury members in a court case by hacking into their hotel television systems to threaten their families. He's so confident in this approach that he instructs his lawyer to offer no defense, which ought to result in an all-but-automatic guilty verdict, especially given that he was caught red-handed (all part of his plan). He's acquitted.
- Grimm: Both types take place in the episode "One Angry Fuchsbau," because Amoral Attorney Barry Kellogg is influencing both the witnesses and the jury via Mind Control.
- The premiere episode of The Wire has a witness killed and drug lieutenant D'Angelo Barksdale acquitted for murder, via witness tampering. Protecting the life of state's witnesses or solving their murder cases becomes a very serious political issue afterwards.
- Continuum: Julian is found not guilty at his trial for Roland's death because of witness perjury and jury tampering and a corrupt judge.
- Bones: A man who is about to testify against a big military contractor ends up with his wife dead and son kidnapped in order to keep him from testifying.
- Barney Miller: A man about to testify in a mob investigation is Properly Paranoid when some poisoned sandwiches are delivered to the squad-room. He refuses to eat, but Big Eater Wojo is taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. Making the best of a bad situation, Barney has Harris check Wojo into the hospital under the witness's name, and Harris leaks to the press that he died.
- In an episode of The Listener, the key witness in a mobster's murder trial is shot and seriously wounded. The cops think that the mobster could not intimidate the witness into not testifying and hired an assassin instead. However, they later discover that there while there was indeed witness tampering, it was done by the prosecutor. The mobster was innocent of the murder and the witness was coerced into perjuring himself. The assassin was hired not to silence the witness, but to actually get him to tell the truth in court.
- Several examples show up on Suits:
- In one episode, Harvey tells his Corrupt Corporate Executive client that there are witnesses who can link her to six murders. She insists that they bribe the witnesses to not testify. Harvey points out that this is legally, ethically, and strategically a bad idea, but she refuses to listen to him. In the end, they use Loophole Abuse to have the witnesses sue the corporation for civil damages, and thus any settlement money they are given cannot be legally considered a bribe.
- In another episode, Harvey fears that the opposing lawyer in a sexual harassment trial will try to tamper with a key witness, but at the last minute, he realizes that the witness has been tampered with from the beginning. She is a fake and was never sexually harassed by the defendant, as she had told Harvey. The opposing lawyer hired her to tell Harvey a bunch of lies, and then on the stand, she would tell the truth, embarrass Harvey, and torpedo his case.
- On yet another occasion, Harvey suspects that a prosecutor in a murder trial is tampering with witnesses and encouraging them to perjure themselves. He has good reason for his suspicions, as the prosecutor has a long history of tampering with witnesses and evidence. However, when Harvey confronts one of the witnesses, he realizes that the witness is actually telling the truth and (in a case of Poor Communication Kills) really thought that Harvey's client ordered the murders. When Harvey investigates the other witness, he discovers that the witness was tampered with, but the tampering was done by another lawyer in Harvey's firm who is trying to hide the fact that he is the one who ordered the murders.
- Blue Bloods has the usual types of attempts to scare off witnesses, but a couple stand out head and shoulders above the rest.
- In "To Tell the Truth", while on a late night shopping run, Danny Reagan witnesses a drug kingpin execute the brother of a subordinate to send a message. He's determined to testify even knowing that said kingpin has had lots of prior witnesses intimidated or killed off in gruesome ways. Sure enough, they kidnap Danny's wife and try to blackmail him into silence (not the smartest idea, going up against a Reagan).
- In "Working Girls," a Russian mob boss threatens the children of the man whose wife he's on trial for murdering in cold blood, scaring him into attempting to leave the city so that the guy's henchmen can gun him down. He tries a similar trick on a surviving witness after Danny and Jackie Curatola get her to court in one piece, except it doesn't work.
- In "Town Without Pity," Erin attempts to prosecute a doctor who went on the run after being accused of killing his wife. Her efforts are hindered by an attorney named Kathy Elliot, who hides his location in order to exclusively reveal his story on her podcast. Learning that the doctor has intimidated a witness, Erin and Anthony follow the egotistic lawyer to a remote location and manage to nab the doctor. Elliot coughs up a piece of evidence making it seem like the murder victim is alive, but this is later disproved and she is forced to cooperate for the sake of her career.
- Subverted in an episode of Matlock. Defense attorney Ben Matlock interviews a potential witness and gets her story, then calls her to the witness stand to repeat it in front of the jury where she tells a completely different story. Ben thinks that she's been tampered with, but according to her, this is the real story and she had been tampered with before when she had talked to him previously (and she wasn't under oath then).
- In the Pie in the Sky episode "Ugly Customers," several members of a divided jury receive threatening messages warning them to give a not guilty verdict. It turns out that the messages are actually the work of one of the jurors trying to sway his colleagues toward a guilty verdict.
- Leverage: "The Juror #6 Job" becomes a battle behind the scenes over control of the outcome of a pharmaceutical lawsuit. To keep a Corrupt Corporate Executive from buying the jury, they decide to steal it instead.
- Castle had an example where this was done both ways by two people, to the same person, during the same trial. The first one (witness tampering) was the DA/prosecutor refusing to listen to testimony from a witness claiming that the defendant was innocent because, unbeknownst to the witness actually the brother of someone involved in the accidental death of a rich girl the DA was working to hide the victim's true cause of death (killed by her brother in an accident on a drug run). The second example (jury tampering) was the witness himself, desperate to keep an innocent man out of prison (he's a reformed convict, so he knows what it's like in prison), so he bought his way onto the jury in hopes of swinging the case for the defendant. This got the witness/juror murdered and became the episode's case. Maybe an extreme example of this trope...
- Daredevil (2015):
- In "Rabbit in a Snowstorm," James Wesley hires Nelson & Murdock to defend John Healy, an assassin arrested for bashing a gangster's head in with a bowling ball on the order of his boss, Wilson Fisk. Despite Foggy's reservations, Matt insists on taking the case, suspicious as to why an investment firm is paying the bill for a murder suspect's defense. Though he knows Healy is guilty as sin, Matt is committed to playing his part in a fair trial, so when he discovers that Fisk's men are coercing one of the jurors, he forces the thug blackmailing her to tell her to get herself excused. The jury hangs anyway, with strong implications that Fisk found other jurors to coerce, and more strings are pulled behind the scenes to get Healy off without a retrial. Matt hunts down Healy after he is released, gets him to admit that Fisk is his boss, and then promptly impales his head on a fence spike in fear of Fisk's retaliation.
- Unintentionally happens during Frank Castle's trial in season 2 when Elektra, trying to help Matt out, intimidates the coroner who covered up the deaths of Frank's family into admitting the truth. His testimony gets thrown out due to having been made under duress, a wedge is driven between Matt and Foggy, and Matt is furious at Elektra for ruining his best chance at getting a mistrial for Frank.
- Upon Wilson Fisk's release from prison in season 3, Matt, Karen, and Foggy each separately try different tactics to send him back to prison. After several attempts that fail or backfire with disastrous results, they finally get Ray Nadeem to testify before a grand jury about how Fisk blackmailed him and other FBI agents into being his glorified muscle in an extortion racket. Unfortunately, Fisk finds out from his connections what they're trying to do, and directs his street boss Felix Manning to ensure that he doesn't get indicted. He first attempts to have Nadeem killed by gunmen who ambush the police van escorting Nadeem (with Matt as his bodyguard) from Fogwell's Gym to the courthouse. Matt and Nadeem defeat Fisk's assassins and make it to the courthouse. Nadeem gives his testimony, but just as they think they're in the clear, a henchman sent by Fisk to the courtroom begins rattling off the names and addresses of the jurors, intimidating them into declining to indict Fisk. Nadeem, with nowhere to run, knocks Foggy out in the bathroom, returns home, films a dying confession (which is admissible evidence thanks to several loopholes), then resigns himself to his fate when Dex is sent to his house on Vanessa's orders to kill him.
- Jessica Jones (2015): In Jeri Hogarth's first capital case, she won the case by bribing one of the jurors. Wendy tries to use this as blackmail in the messy divorce.
- In Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson is able to sabotage his legal proceedings in the season 2 finale for election rigging through a variety of antics dropped at the very start of the trial, from one witness suddenly "committing suicide"note , another on the run for murder, and one suddenly getting married to the defendant.
- Batman (1966): In one episode, a jury declares the Joker and Catwoman innocent in spite of their lawyer doing little to nothing to defend them. When the foreman's mustache falls, Batman recognizes him as one of the villains' henchmen and pays enough attention to the other jurors to recognize them as other henchmen.
- Person of Interest. Team Machine discovers a juror has apparently been coerced, so the Machine arranges for Harold Finch to be on the jury, and Zoe Morgan instructs him on how to sway the jury to a guilty verdict. Finch gets a nasty shock when the juror instantly agrees to this, and so Finch has to do a Verbal Backspace and stall matters until Team Machine can discover who wants the accused found guilty instead of innocent.
- The Professionals. In "Not A Very Civil Civil Servant", the Villain of the Week uses a combination of threats and bribery to arrange for several jurors to sway the others.
- Better Call Saul: A variant in season 5. With Lalo Salamanca threatening to cause major problems for Gus Fring, Gus decides that Lalo needs to be locked up, so he has Mike lean on a witness to a murder that Lalo committed to indirectly get the police to link Lalo's car to the crime scene and thus arrest him. However, when Lalo continues to pose problems from jail due to getting access to a contraband phone, Gus decides he needs Lalo bailed out of jail, so he has Mike inform Jimmy about the witness tampering bit so that Jimmy can bring it up in court and convince the judge to grant Lalo bail.
- The Mick: When Chip gets caught with naked pictures on his phone he must stand before the school's Honor Board, which his sister Sabrina is a member of. Their Aunt Mickey thinks Sabrina should let Chip off since he's family. When she doesn't, Mickey breaks into Sabrina's room and downloads her laptop's data to a USB stick. She threatens to release it unless Sabrina lets her brother off easily. Sabrina simply steals the drive back.
- Manfred von Karma of the Ace Attorney series is strongly implied to be involved in witness tampering, as a means of keeping up his spotless conviction rate as a prosecutor. He also seems to have passed on his methods to his daughter and his student; they both have moments where their witnesses admit to having been told to not talk about somethingnote .
- This is actually used by the good guys in Apollo Justice. As part of his plan to expose Kristoph Gavin as the one responsible for commissioning and delivering unto Phoenix Wright the forged evidence (which Phoenix didn't know was forged when he presented it) that led to his attorney's badge being revoked, as well as the murder of Drew Misham and attempted murder of Vera Misham, he volunteers to be the one who selects jury members for a test run of the new "jurist system," which would allow regular citizens to ultimately decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant, rather than the power resting solely with the judge. Apollo manages to expose Kristoph as the poisoner of both Mishams, but as Kristoph points out, since the poisons had been sitting around for seven years prior and that he didn't directly force either of them to ingest any of it, no one can definitively prove him guilty for anything. It's then that we cut to the jury room when Vera's fate is about to be decided, and we see an unnamed person asking Phoenix to clarify the rule about no jurors who have personal ties to the case at hand being allowed to vote. Phoenix agrees and states that the juror doesn't have any such personal tie to this case. It's then that we realize that the juror is Thalassa Gramarye, who we've known until recently as Lamiroir, who's just regained her memory and learned that the man who Kristoph was convicted for killing in the first case was her husband. Again, there's no irrefutable physical evidence to prove him guilty in order to clear Vera's name, but since Thalassa knows what kind of man he is, she votes Vera "not guilty," which allows her to go free, and inspires Kristoph to burst into a legendary fit of loud, unhinged laughter at the fact that a biased jury of all things is what laid low his carefully calculated plans.
- Ultimately, Dual Destinies shows that exposing years of corruption in the legal system has devastated public trust, leading to prosecutors getting even more creative in their manipulations, specifically because they're already in The Tyson Zone.
- A century earlier, in The Great Ace Attorney, it's not the prosecutor who gets in on this, but rather the defendant, of all people! The third case has Magnus McGilded, who in the final case turns out to have threatened a seventeen-year-old girl into testifying in his favor and tampering with evidence of his crimes during the third trial.
- In one of Knights of the Old Republic's Courtroom Episodes, it's possible for the player character to use Force Persuade to make witnesses perjure themselves. This is considered a Dark Side action.
- In one of the side-quests in Chrono Trigger, Marle's father, the king of Guardia, is put on trial for selling the kingdom's royal treasure for petty cash. During the trial, the player gets to see that the prosecution's star witness was in fact setting up the king on orders from the chancellor. And then it turns out it wasn't the real chancellor, but a disguised descendant of Yakra, the very first boss the heroes defeated to save Marle's ancestor, Queen Leene.
- Inverted in Daughter for Dessert. Detective Mortelli tampers with his own testimony (and the evidence) because he doesnt want to see the protagonist go to jail over something that he firmly believes is right.
- Grand Theft Auto:
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has this in a mission. The goal is to track down two jurors and intimidate them into giving verdicts of not guilty. Needless to say, this mission is given to you by a very inept lawyer.
- Grand Theft Auto V: Franklin's first Assassination mission has him undoing this: A cigarette company with a class-action lawsuit against them had bought four jurors to their side, with Lester ordering Franklin to kill them partly because they'll be helping a lot of people badly affected by their cigarettes, and mostly because he's already placed a large amount of money on the stocks of their main competitor.
- A Slappy the Squirrel short from Animaniacs has Slappy accused of cartoon violence against Walter Wolf. Slappy's defense consists of describing how she basically blasted Walter to smithereens, leading the jury to find her...not guilty, at which point it's revealed that Slappy rigged explosives under the jury's seats.
- Used as a gag in Futurama. At one trial against the robot mafia that Bender is testifying in, his lawyer claims jury tampering, then we're shown a mobster rewiring members of the (robot) jury.
- Used pretty often in The Simpsons to showcase how much of a Crapsack World Springfield is (with incredibly blatant bribing and threatening, sometimes right in the middle of the court's session). The episode The Boy Who Saw Too Much is a notable subversion because even with all of the bribery Mayor Quimby had done behind the scenes, his nephew Freddy was still going to go to jail if not for Bart's testimony (the fact that Freddy went into a raging tirade and threatened to kill everybody in court, jury included right in the middle of declaring under oath that he didn't have a Hair-Trigger Temper pretty much did it).
- The Robot Chicken skit "Bop It. . . Or Else" has a "Bop It" toy issuing a series of "[verb] it!" commands that end in turning into a sniper rifle and bullying a kid into assassinating a politician, being arrested by police before he can, when told, "End it!", and a trial arriving at the question of if the mastermind is present, with the still-talking toy insisting, "Zip it!"; this effort fails.