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NY Penal Law § 145.45: Tampering with a Consumer Product in the First Degree

Since the early 1980’s, a multitude of consumer products have specially designed caps and seals to stop people from tampering with what’s inside the package.  Warning labels alert consumers that if a seal is broken or if the product packaging looks as though it has been tampered with, then they should not buy that particular item. Nevertheless, not every product can be made to be tamper-proof, and not every consumer is capable of recognizing when a product they are looking at has been tampered with. As a result of product tampering, people can be seriously injured or, in some circumstances, they could die. Both federal and state legislation exists that makes it illegal to tamper with consumer products. The term “Consumer products” encompasses any drug, food, beverage, or other product that is created to be ingested by people or to be applied to the external surface of a person’s body (skin, hair, nails, etc).  You would have committed the crime of tampering with a consumer product in the first degree under New York Penal Law § 145.45 if:

  1. You engage in the act of altering, adulterating or otherwise contaminating any consumer product,
  2. In altering, adulterating or contaminating a consumer product, had the intention of injuring another person or instilling fear that injury might occur, 
  3. You did not have the right to do so and
  4. In doing so, you create a substantial risk that someone will be seriously injured.

Example

Vashti worked at a local fast food place. She didn’t really enjoy her job.  Vashit especially despised her manager, and did not get along with him.  During a particularly busy weekday afternoon rush, Vashti’s manager got angry, berating her and embarrassing her in front of her much younger co-workers.  Humiliated, Vashti made up her mind to get revenge on the manager and the restaurant. She secretly sprayed a commercial grade cleaning solution on 3 hamburger patties and made them into sandwiches for an order. She wrapped them up as normal and sold them to a takeout customer.  Later that afternoon, the 3 people who ate the burgers reported to the restaurant manager that they had become extremely ill after eating the burgers. Vashti would face prosecution for tampering with a consumer product in the first degree. Not only did she tamper with a consumer product, she did this in such a way that she placed the consumers at risk of serious physical injury.

Offenses that are Related

Tampering with a consumer product in the second degree: New York Penal Law § 145.40

Criminal tampering in the first degree: New York Penal Law § 145.20

Criminal tampering in the second degree: New York Penal Law § 145.15

Criminal tampering in the third degree: New York Penal Law § 145.14

Possible Defenses

For the purpose of convicting you of tampering with a consumer product in the first degree, the prosecutor must demonstrate that whatever tampering you did presented a substantial risk of serious physical injury. For example, if the tampering could only possibly cause consumers to get a mild stomach ache, or a temporary rash, then the prosecutor would find it rather difficult convincing a court that you are guilty of this charge.

The Sentence

Tampering with a consumer product in the first degree is categorized as a class E felony. The possible punishment for a conviction is that the judge may sentence you to prison for up to four years.  On the other hand, it is also possible that the judge will not sentence you to any prison time, but will instead sentence you to a 5 year probation term.

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